‘Did you, like, fall over or something?’

In the first few episodes of the brilliant TV series ‘West Wing’, there’s a great story line that starts with Sam Seaborn having a one-night-stand with a very attractive young lady. When he leaves her place the next day, he accidentally takes her pager instead of his, and that’s how he discovers, later in the day, that she’s a call girl. This is a problem, as he’s a senior official in the White House.

Eventually he goes to his boss, Toby Ziegler, and says, “I accidentally slept with a prostitute”. Toby looks at him with a dead-pan expression on his face (as only Toby can) and says, “I don’t understand; you accidentally slept with a prostitute? Did you, like, fall over or something?”

I was reminded of this episode when I read Jonathan Clatworthy’s article on the Modern Church blog entitled, ‘Spreading the Word – a liberal response‘. In it, Clatworthy is rather scathing about what he calls ‘intentional evangelism’ and instead recommends ‘unintentional evangelism’ – evangelism, it seems, that doesn’t involve much in the way of spoken witness, but is more about living your life in devotion to God, letting people see that you’re a good person, and letting that be your influence (he’s quite keen on the quote, widely but almost certainly wrongly attributed to St. Francis, ‘Preach the Gospel – use words if necessary’).

Maybe its my wicked sense of humour, but when I read that phrase ‘unintentional evangelism’ I immediately thought of Toby saying “You accidentally slept with a prostitute? Did you, like, fall over or something?” I can almost see a very apologetic young Christian saying, “I’m sorry, sir – I think I might have accidentally evangelized you yesterday. I assure you, I didn’t mean to do it – it was entirely unintentional. I was falling over when I did it”.

Clatworthy’s article is in response to a piece in the Church Times by Chris Russell, who is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s advisor for evangelism and witness. Russell’s piece was entitled ‘Why Evangelism is Always Non-Negotiable’. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here are a few choice quotes:

When Archbishop Welby first talked about appointing an Adviser for Evangelism and Witness, he explained the reason for using the “e-word”.

It was not simply because the term “mission” has – wonderfully in many ways – become the watch-word for everything we do in the Church, and as a concept has grown so large as to be ungraspable as a priority. Nor was it to give privilege to one church tradition above another. Evangelism is not, and will not be allowed to be, the preserve of Evangelicals: it is far too important for that. No, the reason for using the word “evangelism” is because it is a particularly Christian word: Jesus, we are told, arrived proclaiming the Good News. 

IT IS a relief that the cliché “Preach the gospel at all times: where necessary, use words” has ceased to do the rounds. At least, I hope it has – not just because there is no record that St Francis ever said it, but because, even if he did, it is just wrong: to proclaim the gospel is to use words. As T. S. Eliot’s character Sweeney says: “I’ve gotta use words when I talk to you.”

We see this reflected in the first of the Anglican Five Marks of Mission: “To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom”….

THIS message is about the person of Jesus Christ: so it is always personal, always loving, always gracious, and always particular. It is not some package to be delivered, like some dusty just-add-water powder. As it is Jesus Christ we are setting forth, the words always are spoken in a specific tongue, at a specific time, with a specific accent, and a particular dialect.

Evangelism requires listening and proclamation, reception and gift, the theologian Luke Bretherton writes. “We cannot presume to know what needs to be said and done with these people, in this place, at this time, if they are to truly hear and dwell within the gospel.”

The setting forth is essential. People cannot know the glad tidings unless God’s community shares them. The gospel is not something we already know: it is new knowledge that cannot be known unless it is borne witness to. To hear, respond, and follow Jesus Christ is the best thing that anyone can do with his or her life. The Church exists as the bearer and performer of this good news. The Holy Spirit forms us in, through, and for this. 

In response, Jonathan Clatworthy (after arguing that, while most Christians would agree that we have good news to share, they might not agree as to exactly what it is), says,

Some of us would argue, from experience, that unintentional evangelism is at least as powerful as the intentional kind.  How many people have been “brought to Christ” (whatever that actually means in any particular case) by the simple witness of worship, work and love on the part of a faithful community or individual?  In-your-face evangelism, however courteous and contextual, all too often alienates people; the quiet witness of a life lived according to the demands of the Christian story generally does not.

My quarrel with this paragraph is that it sets up two extreme alternatives – on the one hand, ‘the simple witness of worship, work, and love’, and on the other hand ‘in-your-face evangelism, however courteous and contextual’. But surely these aren’t the only two alternatives we have to choose from? Yes, of course (as Chris Russell clearly says in his article) our life needs to agree with our words, and worship, work and love add credibility to our witness. But does this really mean that we should not say anything at all unless we’re asked about it? Would the gospel message ever have made it out of Jerusalem if the first Christians had followed Clatworthy’s advice?

And come to think of it, should we really base our decisions about evangelism on whether or not people are offended or alienated by it? Doesn’t Jesus have something to say about this (in the context, please note, of a speech in which he sent his disciples out to do intentional evangelism)? “You will be hated by everyone because of me… The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master… If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household?” (Matthew 10:22-25). Doesn’t Paul assume that the message of the cross will be offensive to some people (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-end)?

Yes, of course, there’s a difference between the offence of the message and the offence of the messenger. Yes, of course, some people have been less than tactful (and less than wise) in the way they have chosen to present the gospel. But in our desperation not to be seen as ‘one of those people’, do we really have to go to the opposite extreme, and steadfastly refuse to say a word about the gospel unless someone is so impressed by our good life that they come up to us and ask us why we’re such admirable people? Once again, would the gospel ever have made it out of Jerusalem if the early Christians had followed Clatworthy’s advice?

No, sorry, this won’t do. It won’t do, because it is unfaithful to the Jesus we claim to be following. The Lord of the Church gave very clear instructions about this, and they are repeated in one form or another in all of the gospels and in the book of Acts. At the end of Luke’s gospel Jesus says,

“This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:46-49). 

Matthew’s version is perhaps better known:

‘Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”‘ (Matthew 28:18-20).

John puts an even more far-reaching commission on the lips of Jesus:

‘Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”. And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”‘ (John 20:21-23).

And in Acts chapter 1 Jesus says to his followers,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The ending of the Gospel of Mark is problematic; it seems to be cut off abruptly at 16:8, and what follows appears to have been added later in an attempt to bring the story to a smoother conclusion. Nonetheless, whoever the nameless editors may have been, they evidently shared the conviction of the other gospel writers that Jesus had sent his church out to spread his message and call people to faith in him:

‘(Jesus) said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned…” Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it’ (Mark 16:15-16, 20).

Note that, despite their surface differences, these witnesses present a remarkably coherent message. After his resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus told his disciples that he was sending them out in his name to spread the good news and to call people to repentance, faith, and discipleship, which would be made concrete by the act of baptism. This message was not just to stay in Jerusalem, but was to be taken to all nations. They would not be able to do this by themselves, and so they were going to be given the gift of the Holy Spirit in order to be effective witnesses. The Book of Acts goes on to tell the story of how the early church obeyed Jesus’ command and spread the good news of Jesus across the Roman empire.

Mr. Clatworthy appears to me to be recommending that we concentrate on ‘the simple witness of worship, work and love on the part of a faithful community or individual’, and only engage in evangelism in response to questions that are prompted by these things. But seriously, is this what those early Christians did? Did they send out a team to Samaria, for instance, or Athens, or Rome, with instructions to try to let everyone see how impressive their worship was, or how loving they were, or what wonderful food banks they ran, but at all costs not to say anything about the gospel unless they were asked?

Of course not. It is only because those early Christians faithfully followed their Master’s command to be intentional about evangelism that we are even having this discussion today. If they had not shared the gospel with words, not just deeds, Jonathan Clatworthy, Chris Russell and I would not be Christians today. I don’t know Jonathan Clatworthy but I assume that he is glad to be a Christian, and would find no-name theism unsatisfactory.

And that is why I believe that the fundamental problem with Mr. Clatworthy’s approach is that it is not self-sustaining. I don’t know the answer to his question, ‘How many people have been “brought to Christ” (whatever that actually means in any particular case) by the simple witness of worship, work and love on the part of a faithful community or individual?’ But I do know this: in the pages of the New Testament there is no meaningful ‘coming to Christ’ that does not involve speaking and hearing. This is because being a Christian is not just about becoming a kind and loving person, however admirable that may be. It is about hearing the Good News that the world has a new king, Jesus the Messiah, who died and rose again to reconcile us to God and to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has now been given. And it includes a call to all people to forsake their former allegiances and to commit themselves to Christ in willing and joyful discipleship.

But, as Paul puts it,

‘How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news”‘ (Romans 10:14-15).

Hence, the Lord calls witnesses and sends them to others with this gospel message. Not just accidental witnesses – not just unintentional evangelists – but joyful, intentional, enthusiastic sharers of the good news, who believe that it is God’s will that people who are not yet followers of Jesus should turn to Christ through the witness of his church, and who long with all their hearts to take part in that holy work.

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Shepherds or leaders or both?

Terminology is important. What we call ourselves says a lot about how we view our role.

Marci and I do our daily Bible reading with the help of the Bible Reading Fellowship’s ‘New Daylight‘ notes. This morning the set passage was 1 Peter 5:2-4, but we read a little more than that. Here is the passage:

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favour to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:1-8 NIV 2011)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

In the short note in ‘New Daylight’, the author frequently used the terms ‘leader’ and ‘servant leader’, but the thing that interests me is that Peter never once uses this word in this passage. His preferred term is ‘shepherd’; he talks to the elders and tells them to see themselves as shepherds after the pattern of the Good Shepherd himself.

What am I saying – that pastors don’t lead? Of course not. But terminology matters, and Peter’s instructions in this passage actually run counter to much accepted leadership wisdom. Authoritarian leadership is not appropriate for a Christian shepherd; we’re told not to lord it over the flock, but instead to lead by example – in other words, modelling the true Christian life in the sight of the congregation so that they can see what it looks like and want to emulate it (of course, this assumes that Christian congregations are small enough for the members to know their elders well – which perhaps has something to say to our obsession with church size).

Not once in this passage are we pastors told to ‘lead’. We’re told to be shepherds, to watch over the flock, to be eager to serve, and to set a good example. Personally, i think if we do these things, the leadership will take care of itself. But I think if we focus on leadership and neglect these things, the flock will find itself without the shepherds it needs.

Terminology matters. We may lead, but leadership is not our primary calling; shepherding is. May the Lord help us to be good shepherds of the congregations we serve.

The Earls of Leicester and their take on ‘Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms’

I was born in Leicester and these guys don’t look like any Earls of Leicester I would recognize! But they are great bluegrass players!

The Earls of Leicester, featuring Jerry Douglas, Shawn Camp, Johnny Warren, Charlie Cushman, Barry Bales and Tim O’Brien are a group of like-minded musicians banding together to recreate the music of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys.

Led by thirteen-time Grammy-winner Jerry Douglas, The Earls of Leicester features the talents of some of Nashville’s most gifted musicians, including hit songwriter Shawn Camp on guitar and lead vocals, Tim O’Brien on mandolin, bassist Barry Bales (Douglas’s cohort in Alison Krauss & Union Station), fiddler Johnny Warren (son of Paul Warren, legendary fiddle player in Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys band), and acclaimed banjo player Charlie Cushman.

When bad things happen

Adrian Plass is an old hero of mine. Here’s part of a letter from his website this month:AP

In the course of this month I’ve lost most of the use of my right hand because of a stroke, together with something akin to neuralgia, also connected with the stroke, which causes a continual, throbbing headache. It’s a long haul, and the future is uncertain, but medication and hard work are already beginning to show results. The thing I want to make clear, though, is that, however shitty things get, they will never be a measure of God’s love for me or those who are close to me.  Terrible things happen to Christians. They die in car crashes. They become paralysed. Businesses fail. Dreams plummet. Nightmares become reality. Our leader was crucified. If we can’t beef up our puny little theology by embracing and incorporating these inescapable facts we might as well give up our ridiculous faith and join the Ember Day Bryanites. They do coffee and biscuits. They’ll do.

Not for me. I’m in for the long haul, stroke or no stroke.

Yours, written with my left hand

Adrian 

Read the rest here (please do). And if you don’t know Adrian’s work, the best place to start is his bestseller, ‘The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, aged 37 3/4‘, which manages to be both hilariously funny and deeply profound at the same time.

First, prayers are in order for Adrian, Bridget and their family.

Second – yes, it is often true of those of us who were raised in charismatic Christianity that we have an excellent theology of healing but a terrible theology of suffering.

Third, this from the Daily Office lectionary for today:

‘Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us’ (Romans 5:3-5 NIV 2011).

Carry on.

h/t David Keen

On not taking advantage of lawful liturgical flexibility

There’s an interesting post over at Anglican Down Under exploring what is required of people leading Anglican services in New Zealand, where, it appears, there is a rather confusing mishmash of practice going on (Bosco Peters has frequently weighed in on this situation).

I’m sure we have a certain amount of confusion in Canada too, although I don’t think we’re quite at the level of the Kiwis (but then again, I live a sheltered life, so i may be wrong!).

We Anglicans are kind of attached to our liturgies, because they are the way we express our deepest beliefs about the God we believe in and the Gospel we proclaim. We tend to operate on the principle of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’; in other words, we don’t feel compelled to make up new stuff on the back of a cigarette packet, but rather, we assume that the Christians who went before us knew a thing or two, and the worship traditions they evolved probably have a lot of wisdom embodied in them. When we want to make changes to our liturgies, we discuss them for quite a lengthy period of time at meetings of our General Synod, and such changes usually take a number of years to come into effect.

Clergy make promises around this sort of stuff. In the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert’s Land (to which my Diocese of Edmonton belongs) we make the following promise when we are ordained and/or inducted into a new parish:

I, A.B., do solemnly make the following declaration: I assent to the Solemn Declaration adopted by the first General Synod in 1893 (as printed in the Book of Common Prayer), and to the Book of Common Prayer, and of the ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons; I believe the Doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada as therein set forth to be agreeable to the Word of God; and in Public Prayer and the Administration of the Sacraments, I will use the form in the said book prescribed and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority. (italics mine)

‘Lawful authority’ is understood to mean (1) the General Synod, which has authorized other liturgical texts along with the Book of Common Prayer (principally the Book of Alternative Services 1985, and also some supplementary Eucharistic Prayers and Services of the Word, and a few other things), (2) the diocesan bishop, who has authority to authorize the use of additional liturgical material in his/her diocese (as our own bishop has recently done with respect to materials from the Church of England’s ‘Common Worship’ book).

All well and good, and in fact I’m not particularly infected with what C.S. Lewis called ‘The liturgical fidget’, and I’m not constantly looking around for improved liturgies and prayers, as I’m inclined to think that the atmosphere in which the service is conducted is perhaps more important than liturgical perfectionism.

However, I also think that there is a lot more freedom embedded in our current liturgies than people tend to think. Let me give some examples from the most frequently used service in the Anglican Church of Canada, the Holy Eucharist in (more or less) contemporary language beginning on page 185 in the Book of Alternative Services. Let’s give careful attention to the letters in red; we call them ‘rubrics’, and they give what you might call ‘stage directions’ for the use of the texts.

Firstly, on page 185 ‘the president’ greets the community using the form on the top of the page. Then follows a prayer traditionally called ‘The Collect for Purity’, which begins ‘Almighty God, to you all hearts are open…’ But note the rubric above it, which says ‘The following prayer may be said’. 99% of the time, in my experience, it is said. We are given flexibility, but we don’t use it.

Note what comes next. The rubric at the bottom of the page says, ‘Then may follow an act of praise: one of the following hymns, or a canticle or other hymn’. The rubric then goes on to suggest non-binding guidance as to what might be appropriate for certain seasons of the year. The ‘following hymns’ are not actually hymns in rhyme and metre as commonly used today, but translations of ancient hymns: ‘Glory to God’, ‘Kyrie Eleison’, and ‘Trisagion’. But it seems to me that the most logical way to read the direction of the rubric is that this is the place in the service where the opening hymn should be sung, whether it is one of the ones printed, or ‘a canticle or other hymn’. In our church, we simply sing the opening hymn in this spot. However, most other churches don’t; they have an opening hymn right at the beginning (perhaps a processional), then the opening greeting, then another opening hymn (usually one of the three printed on pages 186-7). So once again, we are given flexibility, but we don’t use it.

Throughout the service there is great flexibility with regard to words of introduction, a flexibility which is rarely if ever used. So, for instance, when we come to say one of the two authorized creeds, the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed, we are told ‘the celebrant may invite the people, in these or similar words, to join in the recitation of the creed’. But in practice, the words used are almost invariably the ones set out on pages 188 and 189. And again, when the people are invited to confess their sins, we are told ‘the people are invited to confession in these or similar words‘ (p.191), but I rarely hear anything other than the printed invitation used. We’re also told that the form of confession and absolution on page 191 need not be used at all if penitential intercessions were included in the Prayers of the People (as they often are in the forms on pages 110-128).

Ah yes, the Prayers of the People. I love this part of the service – the part where the people of God fulfil their priestly responsibility of lifting up the needs of the whole world to God in prayer. Note the directions in the rubric on page 190:

A deacon or lay member of the community leads the Prayers of the People after the following model. Intercession or thanksgiving may be offered for

the Church
the Queen and all in authority
the world
the local community,
those in need
the departed

A short litany may be selected from pp.110-127. Other prayers are found on pp.675-684. These prayers may be modified in accordance with local need, or extempore forms of prayer may be used.

It seems clear to me that the closest we have to a required form in this rubric (and the language of permission, rather than prescription, is used throughout) is the outline of suggested subjects for prayer. Litanies are not meant to be the norm; they are one option among several. And yet, when we Canadian Anglicans gather together, those litanies on pages 110-127 are the form we tend to use, I would say, over 90% of the time.

Well, I could go on, but I won’t. I believe that every priest and lay reader should give careful reading to the rubrics in the BAS. We have been given a huge amount of freedom and flexibility in this wonderful liturgical resource-book. We should not allow our worship to get stale! The BAS gives us freedom to adapt for a wide variety of situations, without even examining the various supplementary texts authorized by General Synod or the local bishop. Let’s use our imagination and the freedom that has been given to us, in order to offer regular worship (using an authorized form) that will truly reflect the character of our own worshipping communities and help people to lift their hearts and minds to God and to hear and reflect on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Bruce Cockburn: ‘Water into Wine’

I believe this video was taken at an outdoor concert at the Forum in Ontario Place in the summer of 1979. I was at that concert, having been a Bruce Cockburn fan for a couple of years at the time. I had never in my life heard a guitar played like this by anyone else, and Bruce inspired me to do my best to become a much better fingerstyle player.

This tune is called ‘Water into Wine’ and can by found on Bruce’s 1976 album ‘In the Falling Dark‘. The guitar Bruce is playing was made by Jean Larrivée and was one of the first ever acoustic guitars to feature a cutaway to allow the guitarist more access to high notes. In the 1970s most acoustic guitar builders believed you could not make an instrument like that without sacrificing tonal quality, but Jean Larrivée proved them wrong.