Category Archives: anglican

Collect based on Acts 19

Father God,
You sent you Holy Spirit upon the earliest believers
And by the name of Jesus, demonstrated your power over all other powers,
Give us the confidence of your Spirit, to stand against evil in our present times and witness to the name of Jesus in our lives,
Who, in the unity of the Holy Trinity lives and reigns at your side.
Amen.

The stable door is open

On Christmas Eve last year the Times published this article by Rowan Williams. I’ve just found it again in my files as I was looking for illustrations for talks. It is so good that it’s worth reproducing in its entirety.

The Stable Door is Open. Anyone can come in.

Year after year, church attendance at Christmas continues to defy the trends. Disconcerted clergy find themselves putting on an extra carol service or Christingle. Cathedral deans start worrying about health and safety regulations as the number of people standing at the back is still growing five minutes before the service starts. And in spite of all the high-profile antiGod books published this last year, I suspect it’s not going to make much difference to these swelling numbers in church over Christmas.

So what’s going on? I don’t think it’s that people’s doubts and uncertainties are all magically taken away for a couple of weeks in December. But once in a while people need a chance to face up to the bits of themselves that they cheerfully ignore most of the time – a chance to notice what might be missing in their lives.

And Christmas gives us just this. It gives us a story to listen to. It gives us a sense that what matters most deeply to us matters to God too. And it gives us a moment of stillness in a more and more feverish environment.

It gives us a story. If you go to a carol service, you’ll notice that it isn’t just about the story of Jesus’s birth. It starts right back at the beginning of human history and tells us that everything started well and then everything went wrong, and we got so tangled in habits and attitudes that trapped us and damaged us that we couldn’t get out again.

So the question stares us in the face: “Is this your story?” Did you start well and then find yourself snarled up in things that drain your life and energy? There won’t be many people for whom that doesn’t ring a bell or two.

And then the story goes on to say something quite strange and surprising. God steps in to sort it all out. But He doesn’t step in like Superman, He doesn’t even send a master plan down from heaven. He introduces into the situation something completely new – a new life; a human baby, helpless and needy like all babies.

And it’s by that introducing of something new that change begins to happen. Like dropping a tiny bit of colouring into a glass of clear water, it starts to affect the whole glassful.

The Christmas story doesn’t try to explain how it works. It just says: “Now that this story, Jesus’s story, has started, nothing will be the same again.” So we’re not being asked to sign up to a grand theory – just to imagine that the world might have changed. And most of us can manage that for a moment or two. Christmas lets us hold on to that for just a bit longer.

And it tells us that what matters to us matters to God. Most of us have deep-rooted instincts about all kinds of things – about our families and children, about the need for fairness and forgiveness, about honesty and faithfulness in private and public. A great deal of the world we normally live in seems to ride roughshod over many of these instincts.

We get panicky about what our society seems to be doing to marriage and families, about the forward march of a technology that doesn’t ask the moral questions, about the cynicism and brittleness of a lot of political talk and the celebrity culture.

Christmas reminds us of a God who is completely committed to the weakest, who uses power only so that human life can be fuller, more peaceful and generous, who gives us the help we need to make our relationships stable and faithful – and who requires of us a complete honesty about ourselves, and gently, steadily, chips away our self-deceptions. Christmas tells us that our best instincts about human nature and what’s needed for a healthy world and society aren’t just things we’ve made up. They are rooted in the way the whole universe is shaped by God.

Often people demand “moral leadership” from religious figures. Confession time: like others, I suspect, my heart sometimes sinks when I hear this, and I think, cynically, that it’s just about people wanting religious leaders to tell them that they’re right.

But there’s more to it than that: it’s not that folk simply want bishops or vicars to lay down the law all the time. But they do want sometimes to be assured that their hopes aren’t empty and their fears aren’t stupid, in a world where things change so fast and so disturbingly.

They want to know that there is a “home” for their feelings and ideals, that the universe has a shape and a purpose. And yes, religious leaders will be failing in their job if they can’t meet this need.

But as I’ve hinted, it’s not just a need for words. It’s a need for space where you don’t have to struggle, to fight for your place at the table.

You’re just welcome for who you are. It’s a bit of a paradox.

We usually spend the weeks before Christmas in a feverish nightmare of anxiety and driven busyness, as if we were going to celebrate the festival by making our normal situation even worse! But then there comes a moment when we really have to take time out if we’re going to stay sane. That’s the moment when people start thinking about church.

We still have this half-buried conviction that church is a place where, at least at this time of year, we ought to be able to feel at home. We turn up, tired and overwrought, perhaps, still thinking vaguely about what we haven’t done and need to do before tomorrow. And then the story unfolds. Yes, this is our story, and yes, we can for a moment believe that this birth makes a difference. Yes, God cares about the kind of world we want to see and his faithful love is the basis of what makes a really liveable life. And no, we don’t have to do anything for this time except take it in. There are no entrance qualifications. The door of Jesus’s stable is open and anyone can come in and sit down.

None of this – I can hear the atheist protesting – means it’s true, surely? Not in itself, no. But it suggests that, if God is a “delusion”, as some would like us to believe, then quite a lot more of our human life is a delusion as well, including many of our deepest values and our hopes for forgiveness and peace. All sorts of things will make up your mind about whether it is true or not – and naturally I want people to believe it is and I’m happy to have the arguments. But you will never understand why it might matter for it to be true unless you can take in what the Christmas story is saying to us about who we are and the world we live in.

So, arrive early! There are millions who still want to ask these questions and hear the story. And there are millions for whom it’s not just a piece of our “heritage” – a stately home to visit – but a place to live. God is for life, not just for Christmas.

Every blessing to you all for a very happy Christmas.

Rowan Williams is Archbishop of Canterbury

Find the article here – originally publisher Dec 24th 2007.

The Jerusalem Declaration and the 39 articles

At the GAFCON conference in June 2008 in Jerusalem, the delegates worked out and published a declaration, called the Jerusalem Declaration, to outline their common beliefs as anglicans. As the conference was attended by many who did not go to the Lambeth Conference of Bishops which gathers every 10 years, it was described as the start of a split in the Anglican church.

The 39 articles of religion were issued at the beginning of the formation of the Anglican church. I thought I’d see how the Jerusalem statement and the 39 articles matched up. Below are the main points of the declaration and the articles which they relate to. The full statement is here, and the 39 articles in full are here. The italics are mine.

1. We rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things. – Article 11 (of Justification)

2. We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading. – Article 6 (of the sufficiency of the scriptures)

3. We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. – Article 8 (of the three creeds)

4. We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.- (All of them)

5. We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith. – Article 18 (of obtaining salvation by Christ) and 31(of Christ’s one oblation)

6. We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture. – Article 25 (of the sacraments) and 34 (of the traditions of the church)

7. We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God for their ministry in the world. We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders. – Article 36 (of consecration of ministers)

8. We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married. – no specific article but included under article 6 (sufficiency of the scriptures)

9. We gladly accept the Great Commission of the risen Lord to make disciples of all nations, to seek those who do not know Christ and to baptise, teach and bring new believers to maturity. – no specific article (but as it’s in scripture it comes in articles 6 and 20)

10. We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation, to uphold and advocate justice in society, and to seek relief and empowerment of the poor and needy. – no specific article (but as it’s in scripture it comes in articles 6 and 20)

11. We are committed to the unity of all those who know and love Christ and to building authentic ecumenical relationships. We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration. – no specific article (but article 19 is interesting and reflects the time of writing of the 239 articles an it speaks against he teachings of Rome, Alexandria etc.)

12. We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters. We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us. – Article 20 (on the authority of the church) says that “although the church be a witness and keeper of holy Writ  [Scripture], yet as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of salvation” [paraphrase - don't take away or add to scripture and the church cannot enforce beliefs that are not necessary for salvation]

13. We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord. – Article 19

14. We rejoice at the prospect of Jesus’ coming again in glory, and while we await this final event of history, we praise him for the way he builds up his church through his Spirit by miraculously changing lives. – Article 4

In all, the Jerusalem Declaration seems pretty orthodox to me, and seems to be sticking to the tenets of anglicanism.

Quote on ministry

A quote that I liked from John Pritchard’s book, The Life and Work of a Priest.

“Success and Failure isn’t the right language. It’s the direction of gaze that matters. A wise spiritual guide siad to me “Ask for the gift of prayer. The request is always granted.”

We could say, walk towards the light. This is a much better indicator of doing the right things than any head counting could be.

What is the point of Sunday services?

Josh Harris has written a little book on commitment to the church called “Stop Dating the Church”. One of the chapters is about the Sunday meeting – how each member of the congregation can get the most from it. Here’s the gist of the chapter.

“Sunday is meant to be packed with promise, full of surprises, pulsing with life”

Sunday is the Lord’s Day

  • Jesus stepped out of the tomb on a Sunday and has “owned it uniquely” since then. For the first time ever, death and sin were beaten.
  • Through all our worship, Jesus is with us. Therefore it should never be routine.

Before the Service – Warm up

  • be well rested
  • read the Bible on Saturday night so that the ‘word can dwell richly’
  • Avoid unnecessary distractions on Sunday morning (such as the news, housework, internet, video games)

During the Service

  • Remember that we are part of to a family, not an audience to the church leaders
  • Focus on the truth of what is being sung, and the character of God, not our own feelings
  • Worship includes listening to the sermon. Listening expresses the authority of the word of God. The burden is on the congregation to listen (although that is not an excuse for poor preaching).
  • Take notes to help you remember (use whatever form of notes are most useful)

After the Service

  • “Come on the lookout for God, leave on the lookout for people” J Piper. Look out for new people or those you don’t recognise and welcome them.
  • Use the remainder of the day to rest and ‘stock up spiritually’ for the week. Ask yourself the question “How could my family and I invest joyfully in all of Sunday in a way that truly celebrates God’s love and presence in our lives – and helps us carry this celebration over into the rest of our week.”
  • Review the your sermon notes so you can take the things that God was challenging you with into the rest of the week.

Overall, remember:

“These are my blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ. We are his church, His people. We are here this morning to proclaim His work in our lives. We are here to give witness to the world of His great love and power and glory.”

——————-

Those are Josh Harris’ thoughts, which certainly make a good place to start discussion, although I might quibble with some of his suggestions in the chapter.

My very-initial thoughts on what is the purpose of a Sunday church service, in no particular order:

  • to worship God
  • a chance to stop and listen to him
  • to hear the Bible read and preached
  • to break bread together as we remember Jesus
  • to receive ‘food for thought’ from others (congregation and preacher).
  • it is the ‘church gathered’ – the family of God, and therefore is an expression of his love
  • to encourage one another in the faith
  • it is an opportunity to reflect and address our lives, week by week, and make a change through confession, and through the word of God applied to our lives.