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It is time for Anglican clergy to return to the Bible and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.
The first is retired Bishop Duvall who said:
As I stand there with my head hung low facing the judgement seat of God, ready for my sentence, I feel an arm around my shoulders, the arm of Jesus, who says ‘This one’s with me’.
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan are two remarkably popular theologians who teach a version of Christianity that reduces the Christian faith to contemporary secular assumptions. For Crossan, Jesus was an illiterate Jewish cynic. No Incarnation no Resurrection. The Easter story is “fictional mythology” (p. 161, Jesus a Revolutionary Biography). Borg claims that Jesus was only divine in the sense that Martin Luther King and Gandhi were divine. Borg dismisses the creeds (p.10, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time) Jesus was a “spirit person,” “a mediator of the sacred,” “a shaman,” one of those persons like Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Mohammed, et al. (p. 32)
Recently Borg and Crossan have collaborated on a book, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem. Their Jesus is a semi-revolutionary leader of peasants and outcasts against the priestly elite and those who accommodate to the dominant system of Roman coercive authority. It was not our sinful condition that demanded his crucifixion but this elite. Borg and Crossan’s Jesus does not come from God to take away sin but arose from among the innocent to teach us how not to be a part of the dominant systems. They fail to understand the depth of sin in all of us at all times, including peasants, as well as the elite. More importantly they lose the assurance of ultimate mercy and forgiveness.
On the other side of the world, the Revd David Ould wrote an article for Stand Firm which directed us to return to the Thirty-nine Articles, rooted in Scripture. By way of contrast, he cites an Australian rector, the Revd Rob Bower who recently wrote:
Progressive Christians believe that Jesus came to manifest the Kingdom. That is to reveal the Sacred in our every day life. For far too long we have been obsessed about Jesus’ death being a payment to a wrathful god for the insult of human sin.
The gospels have Jesus mention the Kingdom 106 times; there are very few allusions, and they are only allusions, to Jesus dying for our sins.
Admittedly St Paul and other New Testament writers understand Jesus’ death as replacing the temple sacrifice, and that is understandable given their context. However there is no necessity for us to understand the death of Jesus in this way.
Why did Jesus have to die? For him to do anything else would have required him to compromise with violence rather than absorb it.
Mr Ould reminds us of the historical ‘artifacts’ of the Anglican Communion, the Thirty-nine Articles, specifically (emphases in the original):
Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile His Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.
Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross
The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone.
1Cor. 15:1-3 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
He also calls to our attention Article VI which says that the Bible is our undisputed authority with nothing added to or subtracted from it.
Errant Anglican clergy — priests, ministers and bishops — would do well to take their postmodern, unifying blinders off and read the New Testament.
As to Christ’s once-sufficient sacrifice for our sins, we have several New Testament verses, also prophesied in the Old Testament — no matter what version we choose to read:
He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. (Romans 4:25, New Living Translation)
Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption [for us]. (Hebrews 9:12, King James Version)
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3, New International Version)
Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1 Timothy 2:6, King James Version)
For Christ died for sins once and for all, a good man on behalf of sinners, in order to lead you to God. He was put to death physically, but made alive spiritually, (1 Peter 3:18, Good News Bible)
And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. (1 John 3:5, King James Version)
The King James Version page with verses relating to Christ’s atonement for our sins has a complete list. May we read and not forget.
May Anglican clergy preaching another gospel do the same, prayerfully.
As I write this, many in the world today will have celebrated some form of Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday — often including a dinner which features a sumptuous or high-calorie foodstuff.
The end of Epiphany and beginning of Lent traditionally occurred in Europe at a time when fat and flour stored over the winter were in danger of going rancid or wormy. It had to be consumed in order to avoid household waste. The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday became the perfect opportunity to do this. In France and the UK, this means eating crêpes. In other European countries, a dish which is fried, sautéed or high-calorie features prominently.
My Christianity / Apologetics page has a selection of articles about this time in the Church calendar. Here are a few:
Controversy continues today as to whether Protestants in particular should mark the Lenten period with a willing — not enforced — period of Christian devotion or activity.
My psalm reading this morning just happened to be Psalm 32 which begins,
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”
This strikes me as a perfect entrance into a Lenten season of repentance and self examination. The gift of God’s forgiveness to the one who turns in sorrow for sin is the beginning point. It is the moment of greatest blessing. Many things come after it—love, grace, maturity, knowledge, enlightening of the heart and mind—but none of them can be had in their fullness without repentance, without turning around and walking towards God rather than away from him. And yet this beginning step is usually always the hardest, whether it is a first time repentance, or one of the many many times of contrition the Christian faces …
I pray you will take the time in this blessed season of Lent to open yourself to Jesus and let him look at your whole heart, your whole mind, and allow him to adjust things according to his own plan and purpose. Blessed is the one whose transgression, whose sin is forgiven!
This isn’t to say that you and I are obliged to ‘do something’. No Christian has to ‘do’ anything during Lent — a topic which I’ll explore once again in tomorrow’s post.
A number of us have grown up with Lenten traditions, however, and look forward to a dedicated time of year when we can focus more on Christ, who gave His life for our sins. If we willingly decide to devote this to prayer or self-examination — and it is hoped that we carry this on after Lent ends as a means of sanctification — who is to say we cannot use this time productively in our Christian walk?
Kennedy’s ‘The Perfect Agony’ explores the dichotomy between experiencing happiness in the Lord and the fear as well as the sorrow which accompany significant events in our lives. He uses as his text Mark 14:32-42.
Christians read and hear much about the potential pitfalls of experiencing negative emotions. As Kennedy says (emphases mine):
… this is a hard text for many American evangelical Christians who have been taught that God became incarnate to give us happy lives and therefore any lack of joy, peace, and/or happiness is the result of some kind of faith deficiency. But Jesus, the sinless lamb, experienced emotional turmoil on a level unknown to any other human being. And he wasn’t doing anything wrong.
Citing a real life example — one which is typical in every congregation — Kennedy describes how the more a cancer sufferer he knew (in another church) heard happy verses parroted from the New Testament, the worse she felt.
The problem is ours. We read scripture emotively. Paul says: “rejoice.” We think: feel happy. James says: “Count it all joy”. We think: feel joyful. John says “love casts out fear” we think: If feel love I won’t feel fear. Jesus says: don’t worry. We think: I mustn’t feel worry.
No. God doesn’t say to the mourner, the frightened, the anxious: Don’t feel emotion. He says: Don’t let sorrow, fear, worry, rule you as if they were your gods. You have One God, And I’m greater than your emotions. Let me bear them with you. Come to me. (Matthew 11:28)
Therefore, it is perfectly normal to fear and to grieve. It is normal to experience the panoply of negative feelings, such as loneliness and the blues. However, as with so many other things, it depends on how we treat these feelings. Will we be enslaved to them or will we use those experiences as an opportunity to pray to the living God for help and guidance?
What Kennedy says has implications regarding how we minister to our fellow Christians, including those facing death. Instead of sounding glib by prooftexting, we might well advise prayers for emotional strength during difficult, seemingly impossible times.
One wonders whether reading the New Testament emotionally is a 20th and 21st century trend. I do not recall my parents or grandparents understanding it as such. My grandparents’ generation born in the 1890s would have been used to infant mortality. For my parents’ age cohorts, living to 75 and beyond was an achievement. The deaths which, today, we would consider premature were an occasion for family and friends to pray fervently (a popular word at the time) whilst feeling sorrowful.
Strangely, few of them lost their faith. Churches were full.
These days, instead of looking for wisdom in the New Testament, many of us disregard it. Again, as Kennedy says, it’s all in the way we read it. If we mistakenly read it as an emotional self-help manual — ‘if I really loved, I wouldn’t feel afraid’ — we’re bound to be disappointed, even angry.
Perhaps it is time for us to focus more on God in times of need, when we need to overcome a devastating situation. May we ask Him for help, for grace, for comfort. He will provide.
28But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (Luke 12:28-31)
The trial Church of England (CofE) baptismal rite — running from now to Easter Sunday 2014 — omits any reference to Satan.
In any other Catholic or Protestant denomination, one of the principles of this holy sacrament, the first Christians (should) receive, is to actively renounce Satan and his works.
In the latest CofE prayerbook (first used in 2000) — Common Worship — the part of the text called The Decision reads as follows (‘president’ refers to the priest):
A large candle may be lit. The president addresses the candidates directly, or through their parents, godparents and sponsors
In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light. To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him.
Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?
I reject them.
Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
I renounce them.
Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?
I repent of them.
Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?
I turn to Christ.
Do you submit to Christ as Lord?
I submit to Christ.
Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?
I come to Christ.
Where there are strong pastoral reasons, the alternative form of the Decision (page 168) may be used
Where there are strong pastoral reasons, the following may be used in place of the Decision in the service of Holy Baptism and at other Initiation services.
The president addresses the candidates directly, or through their parents, godparents and sponsors
Therefore I ask:
Do you turn to Christ?
I turn to Christ.
Do you repent of your sins?
I repent of my sins.
Do you renounce evil?
I renounce evil.
These rites have been in place for several years and are nothing new. Some revisions were made in 2000 and others in 2005.
However, why they need further watering down is anyone’s guess. To say that Satan is theologically incompatible with 21st century living is farcical.
As is the case for marriage, the vicar or curate should have discussions with the parents of the child being baptised. (Any adult candidate for Baptism would no doubt undergo an interview.)
He — or she — would ask what their understanding of basic Christian teaching is, the way most of us learnt it as children. Where one of the parents (or an adult candidate) says, ‘Well, I don’t believe there is a devil’, then the priest can explain that, scripturally, there is and discuss the theological position.
I find it curious that Religious Education is mandated in England, yet we have so many a) unbelievers and b) churchgoers who are theologically ignorant.
I agree with my Episcopalian reader from across the pond, underground pewster, who writes:
Screwtape is rubbing his hands in glee. His devils have successfully carried out the biggest stunt they ever attempted. They have killed the Devil. To the collective mind of Man there is no more Devil. This accomplishment tops their earlier elimination of the concept of Sin.
The Devil is dead! Long live the king, ME!
“Hee, hee, hee…” – Screwtape.
I pity any clergyman who cannot explain the existence of the Devil as the author of evil.
Why the changes?
Personally, I suspect that England does not have enough confessing — professing, choose as you like — Christians to serve as godfathers and godmothers.
The CofE offers other explanations, these from the Daily Mail (emphases mine):
The Bishop of Wakefield Stephen Platten, who chairs the commission, said repentance was implied in phrases urging people to ‘turn away from evil’, and defended the omission of the devil by saying it was ‘theologically problematic’.
Odd, that. The New Testament has several references to the devil — Satan — and demons, his servants.
And, whilst not agreeing, another prefaced his opposition with this general comment:
… one senior member of the General Synod, who did not wish to be named, said: ‘The trouble is that large parts of the Church of England don’t believe in hell, sin or repentance. They think you can just hold hands and smile and we will all go to Heaven. That is certainly not what Jesus thought…
True enough — and to unbelievers’ peril. In fact, the ceremony from Common Worship concludes — after the aforementioned Decision (president’s words first, then the witnesses responding [in bold]):
Do not be ashamed to confess the cross of Christ crucified.
Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil, and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life.
The revised conclusion of invocation and response for the trial period, reads:
Do not be ashamed of Christ. You are his for ever.
Stand bravely with him. Oppose the power of evil, and remain his faithful disciple to the end of your life.
If one reads John 6, it is unclear whether everyone is His forever. Jesus states the following (John 6:37 — there are more statements in this chapter):
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
Jesus gladly and graciously accepts those whom His Father sends to Him. That does not, however, necessarily mean everyone.
The older series of invocation and response ended as follows:
Do you believe and trust in God the Father?
I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth.
The ending to the trial version has been reworded:
Do you believe in God the Father, source of all being and life, the one for whom we exist?
I believe and trust in him.
Hmm. Seems as if there is a bit of ‘paid jobs for the guys and gals’ in the CofE, not unlike the editors and compilers of the Lectionary.
Why reword the ceremony invocation and responses at all?
In addition to the aforementioned unbelief prevalent among our population, objections to the old wording, according to those whom the Mail interviewed, have to do with a certain word:
The new text … also drops the word ‘submit’ in the phrase ‘Do you submit to Christ as Lord?’ because it is thought to have become ‘problematical’, especially among women who object to the idea of submission.
Wow. Anyone who has a problem submitting to their only Mediator and Advocate really does have a problem. It seems as if heresy is alive and well within England’s established Church in that so many people seem to believe that Christ was merely human, but not, as all true Christians believe — all human and all divine — one of the holy mysteries which is impossible for us to discern.
According to the Mail, many CofE churchmen and synod members agree that this wording is weakening the baptismal vows taken by or on behalf of the candidate:
Alison Ruoff, a lay member of the General Synod from London, said the new version was ‘weak and woolly’ and lacked conviction.
She said: ‘By removing all mention of the devil and rebellion against God, we are left to our own vague understanding of what evil might or might not mean.’
The retired Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, wrote the conclusion to the Mail’s article, pointing out (excerpts below):
Since at least the 1970s there has been a fashion in the Church of England to minimise depth and mystery in its worship because of the alleged need to make its services ‘accessible’.
The new alternative service for baptism, which has been sent for trial, continues this trend. Instead of explaining what baptism means and what the various parts of the service signify, its solution is to do away with key elements of the service altogether!
From ancient times, the structure of the service has included the renunciation of sin, the world and the devil and the turning to Christ as Lord and Saviour.
The very first baptisms of the Church took place after St Peter’s call at Pentecost to ‘repent and be baptised . . . for the forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 2:38).
The Church has always regarded repentance as necessary for beginning the Christian life and, for children, a cleansing, if not from actual sin, then certainly from the sinfulness of the whole race since the original sin.
Because of its anxiety to make everyone feel welcome and its desire not to offend anyone, the new service, almost entirely, does away with sin and the need to repent from its personal and social manifestations and consequences.
Baptism is nothing less than taking part in this story of salvation, no part of which can be sold short.
Rather than the constant ‘dumbing down’ of Christian teaching, whether for baptism, marriage or death, we should be spending time preparing people for these great rites of passage.
It is best to call a halt to this perhaps well-meant effort before it further reduces the fullness of the Church’s faith to easily swallowed soundbites.
As Bishop Nazir-Ali says, these periodic rewordings of the baptismal liturgy are not new. Progressively, they have been watered down to the point of ‘easily swallowed soundbites’, rendering the Christian faith meaningless.
If you are seeking the sacrament of Baptism for yourself or your child, I would advise that you seek a discussion with your vicar or curate and also request that s/he use an older liturgy, preferably that from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
Then shall the Priest speak unto the Godfathers and Godmothers on this wise [in this way].
Dearly beloved, ye have brought this Child here to be baptized; ye have prayed that our Lord Jesus Christ would vouchsafe to receive him, to release him of his sins, to sanctify him with the Holy Ghost, to give him the kingdom of heaven and everlasting life. Ye have heard also that our Lord Jesus Christ hath promised in his Gospel, to grant all these things that ye have prayed for: which promise he, for his part, will most surely keep and perform. Wherefore, after this promise made by Christ, this Infant must also faithfully, for his part, promise by you that are his sureties, (until he come of age to take it upon himself,) that he will renounce the devil and all his works, and constantly believe God’s holy Word, and obediently keep his commandments.
I demand therefore,
Dost thou, in the name of this Child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them?
Answer. I renounce them all.
Minister. Dost thou believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?
And in Jesus Christ his only-begotten Son our Lord? And that he was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; that he went down into hell, and also did rise again the third day; that he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; and from thence shall come again at the end of the world, to judge the quick and the dead?
And dost thou believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholick Church; the Communion of Saints; the Remission of sins; the Resurrection of the flesh; and everlasting life after death?
Answer. All this I steadfastly believe.
Minister. Wilt thou be baptized in this faith?
Answer. That is my desire.
Minister. Wilt thou then obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life?
Answer. I will.
Oddly, the more sexualised our society has become, the more prudish we have become about the life of the infant Jesus.
In Jewish custom, the male child was circumcised on the eighth day of his birth and duly given a name. You can read more about it concerning our Lord Jesus Christ in my post from 2010.
For centuries in Christianity, the eighth day after Christmas was called the Feast of the Circumcision. Not many parents explained to their young daughters the meaning of this word. However, if there were sons in the house where Christian cultures practiced the rite for hygiene purposes, then it is probable that the girls knew what the term signified.
Yet, at the end of the 20th century, there was a move away from the ‘dirty’ word in an age which saw ever-soaring teenage pregnancies and general fornication. The more carnal we become, the more modest we falsely make ourselves appear to be in the face of the Almighty God and His Son. It is laughable — and pathetic. It seems that, by notionally sanitising the life of Jesus we attempt to appear cleaner in His sight. Nothing could be further from the truth. Remember Who died on the Cross — for all our sins and failings. His circumcision was only the beginning of the blood which He would shed a few decades later.
Wikipedia gives us the full story for Catholics and Protestants. You shall see that calling this feast by the name that it was originally known — the Circumcision — better explains its significance in the life of Christ and His relationship towards us sinners.
Most of the content of article follows, emphases mine.
The circumcision of Jesus has traditionally been seen, as explained in the popular 14th-century work the Golden Legend, as the first time the blood of Christ was shed, and thus the beginning of the process of the redemption of man, and a demonstration that Christ was fully human, and of his obedience to Biblical law.
Roman Catholic Church
Until the 15th century the Catholic Church celebrated the Circumcision and what is now the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus together. The emphasis on the latter in the preaching of Saint Bernardino of Siena appears to be the origin of the de-coupling. Until 1960, the General Roman Calendar gave 1 January as the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord and the Octave of the Nativity. In the 1960 rubrical and calendrical revision under Pope John XXIII, incorporated into his 1962 Roman Missal (whose continued use is authorized by the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum), 1 January is called simply the Octave of the Nativity. Since 1969, the General Roman Calendar celebrates 1 January as the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, referring to it also as the Octave of the Nativity.
The Anglican communion‘s Book of Common Prayer liturgy celebrates this day as the Circumcision of Christ.
Since 2000, the Common Worship of the Church of England lists this day as the “The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus Christ.”
In our Anglican parish, the midweek service for the first day of 2014 is called … ‘Happy New Year’.
Since it was a feast of Christ and related directly to Scriptural passages (notably Luke 2:21), the Feast of Circumcision was retained by churches of the Lutheran Reformation. It remains on most Lutheran liturgical calendars to this day, although there has been a general move to call it “The Name of Jesus.” Martin Luther preached at least one notable sermon on this feast day which is still available in his Church Postils, and up until the late 1970s, Lutheran hymnbooks would contain several hymns relating to this subject.
The feast is also praised in the Second Helvetic Confession, Chap. 24. So, it at least was permitted by elements in the Reformed wing of the Reformation…
Provided that the feast falls on a Sunday, no doubt. The Reformed often do not observe Christian feast days between Sundays. Feeling obliged to attend a service held on a Christmas Day which occurs between Sundays can also be a source of conflict in some Reformed demonimations.
To put Christ’s circumcision into larger context — denominational differences aside — let us look at the following excerpt from a sermon by John Wycliffe. He reflected on Matthew 26:26, wherein Christ declared to the Apostles at the Last Supper, ‘This is My Body’:
… for when Jesus spake of the bread, and said to His disciples, As ye do this thing, do it in mind of me, it was set for a mind of good things passed of Christ’s body; but when the angel showed to John the sacraments of the woman and of the beast that bare her, it was set for a mind of evil things to come on the face of the earth, and great destroying of the people of God. And in the old law there were many figures or minds of things to come. For before Christ, circumcision was commanded by a law; and he that kept not the law was slain. And yet St. Paul saith, “And neither is it circumcision that is openly in the flesh, but he that is circumcised of heart in spirit, not the letter whose praising is not of men, but of God.”
For that reason, New Year’s Day will always be the Feast of the Circumcision for me.
May we remember Christ’s sufficient sacrifice for us as we go about our daily duties in 2014.
A happy New Year to all of my readers. Thank you, to old friends and new, for your support throughout 2013.
Should you be relaxing at home between Christmas and the New Year and are looking for a seasonal film to enjoy with friends or family, The Bishop’s Wife (1947) is a classic.
It shares a few similarities with It’s a Wonderful Life: a Christmas setting, an angel (Cary Grant) who has not yet received his wings, a protagonist (David Niven as Bishop Henry Brougham) who is too close to money woes to see circumstances clearly and a heartfelt prayer for help. It also includes two cast members from Capra’s film: Karolyn ‘Zuzu’ Grimes who plays Debby (the bishop’s daughter) and Bobby ‘Young George Bailey’ Anderson who plays the Defence Captain in the snowball fight scene.
Episcopalians who belong or have been part of large big city parishes will especially appreciate this film. An early scene shows wealthy Mrs Hamilton (Gladys Cooper) refusing to donate to the bishop’s appeal for the new cathedral unless its memorial chapel is built in such a way that everyone can see how great her late husband was. She reminds the bishop that it was she who got him his promotion.
Henry is consumed by his cathedral funding appeal — at the expense of his family and friends. His marriage (Loretta Young plays his wife Julia) is in tatters; his daughter Debby rarely sees him. Brougham is ‘too busy’ to see his former professor, Dr Wutheridge (Monty Woolley), or to go out to dinner. He is terse with his servants and his hardworking assistant. He has more ‘important’ things to do than to visit the rector of his former church, St Timothy’s, whose doors are about to close forever.
After Mrs Hamilton refuses to pledge money for the cathedral, Henry retires to his study and prays for help. Suddenly, a man appears — Dudley (Cary Grant) — who says he is an angel. He reveals his identity only to Brougham. Not surprisingly, Henry is mistrustful and wonders aloud whether Dudley is in fact ‘a demon’.
It isn’t long before Dudley takes the episcopal household by storm. The only person who doesn’t care for him is Henry. Julia and Debby find Dudley a welcome ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy existence. The servants bake him a chocolate cake and lend him one of Henry’s unworn winter scarves.
Dudley seems to make everyone’s life that much happier, including the professor’s. He reassures the ageing man that he will be able to finish his latest book, which he duly does.
The film has genuine touches of charm. Just by waving a finger or giving a casual glance, Dudley is able to refill the professor’s old sherry bottle. He takes Julia and their taxi driver (James Gleason) to an ice skating rink which restores the crusty driver’s ‘faith in humanity’. He tells Debby the story of David and Psalm 23. (Photo credit for the scene, pictured at left: High-Def Digest.) With just a few gestures, he decorates the bishop’s Christmas tree to reflect the glory of the season, which cheers the young servant Matilda (Elsa Lanchester).
As for Henry’s financial tussle with Mrs Hamilton, Dudley manages to turn those circumstances around, too. In absentia, he fixes the bishop to a newly varnished chair of Mrs Hamilton’s and, on a solo visit to her mansion, manages to get her to admit that she never really loved her late husband. You should really see for yourselves to find out what happens from there, although most of the sites discussing the film relate the whole story.
The Bishop’s Wife puts the sins of pride and ambition in sharp relief, yet in a lighthearted way. The Christian message comes across clearly although without the seriousness of Capra’s film. That’s not a criticism, just a way of saying that, although the two bear certain similarities, the treatment is quite different and equally outstanding.
One thing I will reveal is that, even at the end, Henry still doesn’t like Dudley. (And, fair deuce, the angel does spend a lot of time cheering up Julia.) Henry complains that when he asked for help he didn’t receive it. Dudley replies that what Henry was asking for was ‘guidance’ which he (the angel) duly provided.
It’s a reminder to us that God’s ways are not man’s and that angels are God’s messengers, even if, as Dudley says, we begin to think that their ideas are ours! Pride again.
Henry’s Christmas sermon
Speaking of men thinking that angels’ ideas are their own, Dudley rewrites Henry’s sermon for the Christmas Eve service. (Dudley arranges things so that Henry, his family and friends have no memory of his being among them — although they do carry on with the benefits of his visit.)
This is Dudley’s text, which Henry delivered from the pulpit — a lovely sermon for the season:
Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.
Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.
But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s his birthday we’re celebrating. Don’t let us ever forget that.
Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.
What went on behind the scenes
Producer Samuel Goldwyn originally slated Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright, fresh from their success in Goldwyn’s The Best Years of Our Lives, for the roles of the bishop and his wife respectively, with David Niven cast as Dudley the angel.
Unfortunately, for the production, Wright became pregnant and had to drop out. Andrews, according to Robert Osborne from Turner Classic Movies, stayed on board to get Loretta Young’s services. Andrews eventually dropped out and Cary Grant was set to play the bishop, but he really wanted to play the angel. Grant was a big enough star that he could pretty much get what he wanted; Grant became Dudley the angel and Niven was recast as the bishop, much to Niven’s dismay. Goldwyn was not happy with original director William A. Seiter so he replaced him with Henry Koster.
Niven’s wife Primmie had died before filming, which probably did not help.
In early previews, audiences disliked the film, so Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett made uncredited rewrites. Even so, and even though the premiere of The Bishop’s Wife was accompanied by critical success, the film didn’t do very well at the box office at first. Market research showed that moviegoers avoided the film because they thought it was religious. So, Goldwyn decided to re-title it Cary and the Bishop’s Wife for some US markets, while adding a black text box with the question “Have you heard about CARY AND THE BISHOP’S WIFE?” on posters in markets where the film kept the original title. By adding Grant’s first name to the title the film’s business increased by as much as 25 per cent.
In the end, the film was put forward for several Oscars:
nominated for Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture and Best Picture.
It won Best Sound, thanks to Gordon Sawyer’s expertise.
More reasons to watch
The acting, as described by High-Def Digest:
… Grant, here at his polished and debonair best, makes his angel so human, we often forget his heavenly association. The result is an airy fantasy that’s grounded just enough in reality to be palatable, and features a surprising amount of romantic tension. The comfortable interplay between the three leads further fuels the narrative engine, and top-flight supporting work from a stellar cast that includes Monty Woolley, James Gleason, Gladys Cooper, and Elsa Lanchester immerses us deeper into the drama while adding to the sense of high-spirited fun that’s such a vital component of the film …
Young won the 1947 Best Actress Oscar for her work in another light comedy, ‘The Farmer’s Daughter,’ but there’s little doubt her natural, at times luminous, performance in ‘The Bishop’s Wife’ contributed to her victory. Niven brings his usual dry and droll sense of humor to the proceedings (a few of his reaction shots are priceless), along with a poignancy one can only attribute to the grief he was feeling over the tragic and untimely death of his first wife, which occurred at a Hollywood party only a few months before production commenced. As the Scrooge-like society matron eventually enlightened by Dudley, Cooper is appropriately arch and icy (much like the domineering mother she played in ‘Now, Voyager’), while Woolley engenders sympathy as a rueful professor who also benefits from Dudley’s “meddling.”
The script, as detailed by author and lecturer Jay Atkinson:
When he informs her that his time with their family is growing short, Young asks if she will ever see him again.
“They never send us to the same place twice,” says Grant, with a wistful smile. “We might form attachments.”
Niven arrives home just as his wife goes running upstairs, obviously upset. Approaching his visitor, the bishop doffs his hat, thrusts aside his topcoat, and says, “I’ve never before had to fight an angel, but I suggest you take off your coat and put up your dukes!”
Billy Wilder was one of the uncredited screenwriters on the film. I read elsewhere that he was responsible for some of the best scenes and lines in it.
However, let that not detract from the overall script from the renowned Robert Sherwood and Leonardo Bercovici — not to mention Henry Koster’s direction. Bosley Crowther in his New York Times review of 1947 described it in glowing terms:
In shaping this warm and winning fable from a Robert Nathan book, Robert Sherwood and Leonardo Bercovici have written with beautiful belief that a point clearly made in performance doesn’t have to be hit a dozen times nor a moral quietly manifested put into a hundred solemn words. And so there is no heavy pounding of the lesson of humanity, of the futility of ostentation, of the special possessiveness of a man’s love. Nor is there any such pounding in Henry Koster’s directorial style.
The music, says Jim Lochner of Film Score Click Track, is outstanding (emphases in the original):
THE BISHOP’S WIFE contains one of Hugo Friedhofer‘s most heavenly scores …
Friedhofer utilizes all the proper instruments of the season—chorus, organ, sleigh bells–and subtly weaves in a number of Christmas carols. The score is based on a series of leitmotifs, much like his Oscar-winning score to THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES the previous year.
Background on three people behind the film
The Bishop’s Wife was a novel by author, poet and screenwriter Robert Nathan (1894-1985), who came from a prominent New York family of Sephardic Jews. He dropped out of Harvard to pursue writing. Published in 1928, his novel is rather faithfully translated in the film version, although there are a few differences, as follows:
… the Bishop prays for help, and it comes in the form of MICHAEL, a handsome goldenhaired angel, who takes the position of archdeacon … Michael’s pure limitless capacity for love is stifled by his mortal duties of manipulating money from wealthy religious patrons, including MRS. LANYARDE and MR. COHEN… During a conversation with the scholarly PROFESSOR WUTHERIDGE, Michael learns that an angel can’t fulfill “mortal love” as it is unrelated to the divine version. With that, he returns to Heaven after completing his fundraising mission. Julia, realizing she will never have a passionate relationship with the Bishop, decides to have another child with whom to share her love.
It’s hard to imagine that an angel could learn something from a mere mortal. It’s the other way around.
Robert Sherwood (1896-1955) one of the principal screenwriters, was a member of the Algonquin Round Table. Sherwood, also born into a prominent family and a Harvard graduate, was close friends with Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, the best known of the Algonquin set. Sherwood was a patriotic American who served for a time as the Director of the Office of War Information during the Second World War. After the war ended, he wrote the Oscar-winning script for The Best Years of Our Lives, which pipped It’s a Wonderful Life for so many Academy Awards in 1947.
Director Henry Koster (1905-1988) arrived in the United States, one of many talented German Jews who arrived in Hollywood in the 1930s. Born Hermann Kosterlitz in Berlin, he had an early interest in film. His uncle owned a cinema and his mother provided the music to silent films. While she played, he watched the silver screen. He worked as a short story writer then moved into film as a scenarist before becoming a director. He was nominated for Best Director for The Bishop’s Wife. He also directed films as diverse as Harvey, The Robe and Flower Drum Song.
The Gospel reading for the first Sunday after Christmas is John 1:1-18.
What follows is the first reading for this Sunday (Lectionary Year A).
10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.
Zion’s Coming Salvation
1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give.
3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
The imagery here is rich with that of Christ the bridegroom and His coming Church, the bride. All nations will come to know Christ, His Church and her people.
Readers who have been following this blog during Advent will have read my O Antiphon series, taken from the earlier chapters of Isaiah.
The Anglican Diocese of Montreal describes the Book of Isaiah as one of an historical struggle which included a conflict of faith yet hope for deliverance in exile (emphases mine):
This book can be divided into two (and possibly three) parts. Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, from about 740 BC to about 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah: a disastrous war was fought with Syria; the Assyrians conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah … Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile. Some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. Like Second Isaiah, this part speaks of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.
Our Lord would not be born in the flesh for several hundred years afterward, yet, as John Calvin points out, ‘righteousness’ and ‘salvation’ (verse 10) were intertwined then as well as now:
… the one cannot be separated from the other. “Garments” and “mantles” are well-known metaphors. It is as if he had said, that righteousness and salvation had been bestowed upon them. Since the Lord bestows these benefits, it follows that from him alone we should seek and expect them.
Of this, men are not to doubt (verse 11):
By a beautiful comparison the Prophet confirms the former promises; for he reminds the Jews of the ordinary power of God, which shines brightly in the creatures themselves. The earth every year puts forth her bud, the gardens grow green after the sowing time, and, in short, herbs and plants, which appear to be dead during the winter, revive in the spring and resume their vigor. Now these are proofs and very clear illustrations of the divine power and kindness toward us; and since it is so, ought men to doubt of it? Will not he who gave this power and strength to the earth display it still more in delivering his people?
In Isaiah 62:1, the prophet vows to preach on to the people, reminding them of God’s faithful promises to them:
He too might have been dismayed by the unbelief of that people, and might have lost courage when he saw that matters were every day growing worse, and when he foresaw that terrible vengeance. But, notwithstanding so great difficulties, he will still persist in his duty, that all may know that neither the massacre of the people nor their unbelief can prevent God from executing his promises at the proper time.
In verse 2, the prophet foretells that the Lord will give His people a new name. Calvin does not see this in terms of Christianity but as a united and powerful Jewish people of the day. After their time in exile, the Lord will be able to bring them together so that, by the time Christ is born on earth, they will be one people:
Although a vast multitude of persons were led into captivity, yet, having been scattered among the Babylonians, they were driven about like the members of a body broken in pieces, and scarcely retained the name of a people; which had also been foretold to them. After having been brought back from captivity, they began again to be united in one body, and thus regained the “name” of which they had been deprived. Yet “new” denotes what is uncommon; as if the Prophet had said that the glory of the people shall be extraordinary and such as was never before heard of. We know that this took place in the progress of time; for that small band of people, while they dwelt by sufferance in their native country, could not by any extraordinary distinction arrive at so great renown; but at length, when the doctrine of the Gospel had been preached, the Jewish name became known and renowned …
Others expound the passage in a more ingenious manner, namely, that instead of Israelites they shall be called Christians. But I think that the former meaning is more agreeable to the context and to the Prophet’s ordinary language; and we ought carefully to observe those forms of expression which are peculiar to the prophets, that we may become familiar with their style. In a word, the people shall be restored, though it appears to be exterminated, and shall obtain, not from men but from God, a new name.
Yet, what we can draw from Isaiah is that God’s promises to the Jewish people of his time apply to us today as well. God will not forsake us. Calvin explains the view in Isaiah’s time and in ours:
… he intended to fix the hearts of believers on the kingdom of Christ, which it was the more necessary to adorn and magnify by these illustrious titles, because hitherto it was not only obscure but at a great distance. It was needful to provide against a twofold danger, that the Jews, when they saw that they were still at a very great distance from their former honor, might not, on the one hand, despise the grace of God, or, on the other hand, rest satisfied with the mere beginnings, and thus, by disregarding Christ, devote their whole attention to earthly advantages. The Prophet therefore reminds them, that the return to their native country was but the forerunner of that exalted rank which was to be expected at the manifestation of Christ ...
He calls the Church God’s crown, because God wishes that his glory should shine in us; and in this it is proper that we should behold and admire the inconceivable goodness of God, since, notwithstanding that we are by nature filthy and corrupted, and more abominable than the mire of the streets, yet he adorns us in such a manner that he wishes us to be “the diadem of his kingdom.” Let us therefore be aroused by this goodness of God to the desire of leading a holy life, that his image may more and more be formed anew in us.
God sent his only Son to redeem Israel so many centuries later.
Similarly, His guarantee of salvation applies to the Church — and to us — today through the same Jesus Christ — whose earthly birth we celebrate at Christmas — who went on to sacrifice Himself on the Cross for the sins of the whole world.
When God says He will deliver, He fulfils in more gracious ways than can be imagined.
My thanks to Lleweton for sending information on this English chaplain and poet from the Great War.
Studdert Kennedy was known for distributing New Testaments along with Woodbines to troops before and after battle. He also wrote poems, including some frank descriptions of what happened in the trenches. ‘To Stretcher Bearers’ — the first stanza of which follows — is one of them:
Easy does it — bit o’ trench ‘ere,
Mind that blinkin’ bit o’ wire,
There’s a shell ‘ole on your left there,
Lift ‘im up a little ‘igher.
Stick it, lad, ye’ll soon be there now,
Want to rest ‘ere for a while?
Let ‘im dahn then — gently — gently,
There ye are, lad. That’s the style.
Want a drink, mate? ‘Ere’s my bottle,
Lift ‘is ‘ead up for ‘im, Jack,
Put my tunic underneath ‘im,
‘Ow’s that, chummy? That’s the tack!
Guess we’d better make a start now,
Ready for another spell?
Best be goin’, we won’t ‘urt ye,
But ‘e might just start to shell.
Are ye right, mate? Off we goes then.
That’s well over on the right,
Gawd Almighty, that’s a near ‘un!
‘Old your end up good and tight,
Never mind, lad, you’re for Blighty,
Mind this rotten bit o’ board.
Studdert Kennedy was the seventh of nine children born to Jeannette Anketell and the Revd William Studdert Kennedy, who was the vicar of St Mary’s, Quarry Hill in Leeds. (Studdert Kennedy is the surname, by the way, not Kennedy.)
After finishing his studies at Leeds Grammar School, he went to Ireland for university, earning a degree in Classics and Divinity from Trinity College (alma mater of Jonathan Swift and other luminaries) in 1904.
He then returned to England and studied for a year at Ripon Clergy College in Ripon, Yorkshire. In Februrary 2013, the Ripon Civic Society mounted one of their green plaques at the site of the former college to remember the famous chaplain. Ripon College Cuddesdon, incidentally, is the successor to Ripon Clergy College.
Studdert Kennedy’s first posting was as a curate to a church in Rugby. In 1914, he was appointed vicar of St Paul’s in Worcester.
His time in Worcester was to be short-lived, however. When war broke out, he soon volunteered to be an Army chaplain. His ministry took him to the Western Front, where he saw the atrocities of war up close.
The Northern Echo newspaper explains (emphases mine):
The Rev Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy became one of the best known figures on the Western Front for giving Woodbine cigarettes, a copy of the New Testament and spiritual aid to soldiers before battle as well as their injured and dying comrades.
The cleric, who trained at Ripon Clergy College, won the Military Cross for running into no man’s land at Messines Ridge, Flanders, to help the wounded during an attack on the German frontline …
Six years after completing his training at the Princess Road college, which closed in 1915, the Rev Kennedy, volunteered as an Army chaplain aged 31, and became attached to a bayonet-training service.
While touring the Western Front with boxers and wrestlers, he gave morale-boosting speeches about the usefulness of the bayonet and became known for his heavy smoking, despite suffering asthma having been exposed to mustard gas.
It should be noted here that some asthma sufferers find relief from smoking cigarettes. There were also no pocket-sized inhalers in those days.
The article gives us an idea of Studdert Kennedy’s pastoral manner, particularly appropriate for men who, in some cases, had only minutes to live:
He often became embroiled in battles and soldiers told how the Rev Kennedy once crawled to a working party putting up wire in front of their trench.
When a nervous soldier asked him who he was, he replied “The church.” And when the soldier asked what the church was doing there, he replied “Its job”.
Soldiers said they liked the chaplain for his irreverent preaching style and salty language, while he described his chaplain’s ministry as taking “a box of fags in your haversack, and a great deal of love in your heart”.
After the Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918 at 11 a.m., Studdert Kennedy returned to England and was appointed priest-in-charge of St Edmund, King and Martyr in Lombard Street in the City (financial district) of London.
He published two volumes of poems in the aftermath of the war, Rough Rhymes of a Padre (1918) and More Rough Rhymes (1919). These poems and others helped to make him
the country’s most famous religious author.
It wasn’t long before Studdert Kennedy made his political views clear. These he had absorbed during the War. He became what is known as a ‘Christian socialist’, although, in reality, you can be a Christian or a socialist, but not both. He was also a pacifist.
He wrote hard-hitting works: Lies (1919), Democracy and the Dog-Collar (1921) (featuring such chapters as “The Church Is Not a Movement but a Mob,” “Capitalism is Nothing But Greed, Grab, and Profit-Mongering,” and “So-Called Religious Education Worse than Useless”), Food for the Fed Up (1921), The Wicket Gate (1923), and The Word and the Work (1925).
He left St Edmund’s to tour the country as part of the Industrial Christian Fellowship. He was taken ill during a speaking engagement in Liverpool, where he died in 1929.
a crowd of more than 2,000 turned out for his funeral procession, and tossed packets of Woodbines onto the passing cortege.
The citation for Studdert Kennedy’s Military Cross reads as follows:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He showed the greatest courage and disregard for his own safety in attending to the wounded under heavy fire. He searched shell holes for our own and enemy wounded, assisting them to the dressing station, and his cheerfulness and endurance had a splendid effect upon all ranks in the front line trenches, which he constantly visited.
Photo credits: Northern Echo
It has been said that our leading clerics embrace the world because they cannot say with confidence that Christianity is the true faith.
The Right Revd Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently expressed his thoughts on the correctness of England’s gay marriage law. Forget the Bible, it’s the yoof he’s after:
“One of things that I think is most noticeable where we make a bad impression in society at the moment is because we are seen as against things, and you talk to people and they say I don’t want to hear about a faith that is homophobic, that is this that that, that is the other.”
Asked later whether this meant that he regretted voting against gay marriage, he said he stood by his vote because he did not believe “rewriting the nature of marriage” was the best way to end discrimination against gay people.
He said: “The Bill was clearly, quite rightly, trying to deal with issues of homophobia in our society and … the Church has not been good at dealing with homophobia … in fact we have, at times, as God’s people, in various places, really implicitly or even explicitly supported it.
“And we have to be really, really repentant about that because it is utterly and totally wrong.”
“And we have seen changes in the idea about sexuality, sexual behaviour, which quite simply [mean that] we have to face the fact that the vast majority of people under 35 think not only that what we are saying is incomprehensible but also think that we are plain wrong and wicked and equate it to racism and other forms of gross and atrocious injustice.
He added that polling suggests that the majority of Christian young people, including born again evangelical young people, also disagree with the Church’s traditional line on homosexuality.
“We have to be real about that, I haven’t got the answer and I‘m not going to jump one way or the other until my mind is clear about this,” he said.
“I’m not going to get into the trenches on it.”
Well, we can disregard the New Testament, then — just the ‘Church’s traditional line’. Time moves on. (Irony alert.)
He makes it sound as if same-sex adherents were banned from C of E and most non-conformist churches. Nothing could be further from the truth. The question was whether the Church should condone and encourage a formal arrangement — marriage — between such partners.
One of the purposes of marriage is procreation, something which same-sex couples are unable to accomplish without resorting to manmade means.
What next? Will Welby also support incestuous unions in future?
This is where actor Jeremy Irons said we could be going — and many clergy agree:
Could a father not marry his son? … It’s not incest between men. Incest is there to protect us from inbreeding, but men don’t breed… If that were so, then if I wanted to pass on my estate without death duties, I could marry my son and pass on my estate to him.
There is more to this than ‘gay rights’. It will be interesting, if not alarming, to see how this legislation unfolds over the next decade.
Following on from yesterday’s post on politicians’ sexual peccadillos, a more general social outlook sees a plethora of unsettling news stories from the West.
A brief sampling includes sexual experimentation by preteens involving porn and rape, an abusive (soon to be ex-) husband who grabbed his beautiful wife by the throat in public, the ‘right’ some believe they have to deface public or private property, the hate born of extreme nationalism based on neopaganism, the expanding presence of powerful street gangs (the 21st century Mafia), urban bankruptcy, colour-blind juvenile delinquency (it involves many races), the denial of humanity to toddlers and abortion. There is much more.
Whilst we lament these destructive elements, the Revd Walter Bright reminds us that we, too, suffer from our own pernicious temptation and sin in this regard. I cited his post on New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner yesterday and it is too good not to reprise:
Even though some of our weaknesses may not lead to a public scandal, every one of us has a Weiner in us. For some it is pornography, prostitution, strip clubs, money, alcohol, the party life, groupies, gossip, boasting, exaggerating, sexting, anger, masturbation, hustling and dealing. It is that thing that we wrestle with, fight against but it keeps coming back to knock us down …
It has a grip on you. It is stubborn. It is not easily overcome. It is almost like a “dog going back to it’s vomit” and a lot of Christians have a little of Weiner in them. They fall down and get up, they are hot, than they are cold. No matter how hard you try to cut loose, you are caught in its web. It is that thing you get easily addicted to …
The Weiner in you is pleasurable. It is the thing that keeps you coming back for more. Sin has a lot of pleasure in it. I don’t think anyone will be doing it in the first place if it wasn’t fun. But the tricky thing is that pleasure is fleeting and temporary. It bites in the end, and always lead to death – spiritual death.
At the Anglican-Episcopalian site Stand Firm, the Revd David Ould wrote about Charles Saatchi grabbing his (for now) wife Nigella Lawson’s throat at a London restaurant:
… when we fail to honestly take responsibility for our behaviour and acknowledge the sin within us we deny ourselves any opportunity to be forgiven or to rebuild broken relationships. Which is bad enough with others, whether they are our spouse or not, but even worse (and yes, it is possible to be even worse than this) when it comes to the way we relate to God. And never forget that the mercy available from God is even more spectacular.
To save us from judgemental moralism, aren’t we all in danger of being Saatchi?
The Revd Timothy V Shockley Sr also addressed the breakdown of society with the following excerpt from the best selling book, Are Christians Destroying America?, by Pastor Tony Evans:
When you see a culture that’s deteriorating look closer and you will probably see a people of God who have withdrawn from the culture and turned it over to the unrighteous to rule. Consider: when Christians began abandoning inner-city and urban neighborhoods, taking their skills, resources, and moral influences with them those neighborhoods deteriorated.
When Christians left the public school system, moral values were systematically erased until they became almost illegal to teach. When Christians vacated the media, then a spiritual approach to defining everything we hold dear went with them. When Christians decided they ought to get out of politics then righteous political decisions left with them. These realities are magnified in minority communities one of the beauties of integration is that minorities won the right to live anywhere they want, but one downside has been that much of the expertise and moral consciousness of the minority community left the inner city leaving behind an absence of the models who are desperately needed to give a community vision and stability. God’s people have been called to penetrate society. Don’t get me wrong, evangelism is always first because without forgiveness of sins, anything else we give a person is temporary. We have been called first and foremost to win people to Christ. But having given a person Christ for eternity, we must also give him Christ in history. We must give him hope in time. The absence of righteousness in our culture has everything to do with the absence of God’s people penetrating the culture. When there is no yeast the bread stays flat, and when there is no Christian influence the culture stays flat.
(There is only one item I disagree with somewhat and that is the sentence relating to urban neighbourhoods. It’s a bit unfair to the many residents who are God-fearing and peaceable. On the other hand, some people moved out way too early, but having lived in such an area and with a now-deceased widowed grandmother who was the last elderly holdout there, the day comes when you just have to move. With Grandma, it was the random stones (from strangers) through the windows, some of which missed her by inches, and the teen burglars who broke in once during the middle of the night. Did they have a surprise when she burst out of bed at the age of 72 in her pyjamas dashing towards them and shouting. Unfortunately, by then, they had already taken a heavy chain to her television set and brick fireplace. She sat up the rest of the night near the front door, which couldn’t be relocked. She lived in her house for another ten years.)
This isn’t a call for theonomy by any means. However, Holy Scripture calls us to lead a life of goodness and truth. When we excuse certain behaviour to each other or our children because we harbour indifference and deny the family structure — or we offer as excuses ‘helplessness’, ‘identity’ and modernity — then we are enabling a corrupt, violent, valueless society.
Setting the best example we can is a good start towards a remedy as is explaining to each other and to the next generation why certain things are plain wrong.