Ceci n'est pas un blog

David Powlison on being thankful

David Powlison is a Christian counsellor. In the video below he talks about gratitude as an antidote to grumbling, and about the pastoral value of the General Thanksgiving from the Book of Common Prayer, which begins as follows:

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

Dr. David Powlison - On “General Thanksgiving” from the Book of Common Prayer from CCEF on Vimeo.

(Hat tip: Jake Belder.)

Why and how do we celebrate the Lord's Supper?

Whether our tradition is ‘liturgical’ or ‘non-liturgical’, it’s all too easy to simply go through the motions when sharing the Lord’s Supper. Whether we are working from a written script, or from an unwritten script, it’s perfectly possible to do what we always do, without thinking about what we are doing or why we are doing it.

I’ve appreciated the following video, from Michael Petty of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Florida, walking us through their communion service. Like other churches in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), they appear to combine a vibrant evangelical faith with a rich, Anglican liturgical tradition, in a way that I find a little bit curious, but mostly very appealing. I’d love to see the two combined more readily in the Church of England. The focus of the video is very much on the words that are said: there is hardly anything about funny clothes, furniture or paraphernalia. So, assuming that you come from a tradition that uses words in celebrating the Lord’s Supper, I think it should be relevant to you!

(For the record, there were a couple of elements of the video that I wasn’t sure about — such as calling the table an ‘altar’, a prayer of epiclesis, and the idea that the bread and wine change in some way — but I don’t think those detract too much. Also, while we’re in these parentheses, it’s worth noting that ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ refers to a different book on the other side of the Atlantic.)


I was asked to write a one-sided essay on Anglicanism. Let me know if you think I succeeded!

Perhaps one of the most striking features of Anglicanism is its breadth. It is hard to think of any other church, denomination, communion or network of churches that contains within it such diversity. There are Anglican churches that are staunchly Protestant, or that are almost indistinguishable from Roman Catholic churches, or that are overflowing with charismatic renewal, or that adhere to all sorts of novel schools of theology, or that lie almost anywhere in between. Together, these churches constitute the Anglican Communion, a family of 38 provinces spread around the world, counting within its number an estimated 80 million Christians. What makes these churches ‘Anglican’ is their connection with the Church of England, which is both historic and continuing. The provinces are autonomous, but held together (somewhat precariously) by four ‘instruments of communion’: the Archbishop of Canterbury, and three consultative bodies or conferences.

But is that all that needs to be said? Does Anglicanism have only an organic nature, which may be stretched and remoulded without constraint? Or are there any normative characteristics of Anglicanism?

To be faithfully Anglican is, surely, at least to be Christian. But that only begs the question of what it means to be ‘Christian’. Is there unlimited room for disagreement on that point? I think not. One universal feature of Anglican churches is their episcopal form of government. Each ordained Anglican minister must be licensed to practise by his or her bishop, and must be willing to recognize that bishop’s oversight. This places limits to the level of disagreement over what it means to follow Jesus. It places severe strains on the fabric of the Communion if, for example, some bishops are not prepared to recognize other bishops as genuine disciples of Christ. Such strains are being felt at the moment regarding the place within the Anglican Communion of The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA. In the eyes of many Anglicans, this province has significantly departed from the faith, to the extent that a sizable part of the Anglican Communion now recognizes the new Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) in preference to TEC. It is difficult to imagine that this situation can continue for very many years, and it would seem that global Anglicanism is entering a period of significant re-formation.

The classic Anglican statement on the essentials for unity is the ‘Lambeth Quadrilateral’, which was adopted by the Lambeth Conference in 1888. As well as two principles related to the our common life together—the historic episcopate, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper—there are two principles related to the doctrine of the church. These are the Holy Scriptures ‘being the rule and ultimate standard of faith’ and the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, ‘as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith’.1 These principles are perhaps the best way of defining the limits of Anglicanism.

But, within those limits, Anglicanism does have certain characteristic features.2 There has, from 1549 until recent generations, been almost universal use of the Book of Common Prayer, and its influence is still evident, both liturgically and theologically. Anglican churches as a whole have a clear sense of continuity with the church throughout history, and a clear sense of connectedness with the present global church. And there does appear to be a clear, even stubborn, desire to remain together, and for Anglican churches to be broad enough to embrace all who genuinely seek to respond to the call of Christ.

1 Quoted by Paul Avis, The Anglican Understanding of the Church, SPCK, 2013, p. 75.

2 See Stephen Neill, Anglicanism, Penguin, 1960, p. 418–427.

Multi-site mega-churches and their bishops

Since reading Paul Avis on the Anglican understanding of the church, I’ve been pondering the idea that, in Anglican thinking, the basic unit of the church is not the local parish church, but is the diocese, with the bishop as the senior pastor. In other words, Anglican churches are really multi-site mega-churches, with each church covering a particular part of the country (a city with the surrounding region), and with that region divided into zones (or “parishes”), with each zone having its own elder or elders and its own weekly meeting(s). The only significant difference between the Anglican model and the modern version is that I’m not aware of Anglican dioceses live-streaming videos of their bishop preaching every week.

Anyway, Andrew Wilson picks up this idea in a much more snappy way over at Think Theology: Ignatius Meets the Multi-Site Gurus. Enjoy!

The human being who rules the universe

He has raised our human nature
in the clouds to God’s right hand;
there we sit in heavenly places,
there with him in glory stand:
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
man with God is on the throne;
mighty Lord, in thine ascension
we by faith behold our own.

Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885), See, the Conqueror mounts in triumph.

The real environmental problems and how to solve them

Just came across this quote1 by Gus Speth, a professor of law and former administrator of the UN Development Programme, in the latest issue of Tearfund’s Tear Times:

I used to think the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought with 30 years of good science we could address those problems, but I was wrong.

The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy - and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation and we scientists don’t know how to do that.

I don’t think politicians and political or environmental activists know how do to that either.

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the only means of bringing about this transformation is the full, unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaimed “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).

1 Compare Ken Wilson’s chapter in Practicing Sustainability, which appears to give some context to the quote.

The Catholic Faith (of the Church of England)

The Catholic Faith

I sometimes wonder what it would have been like in the Church of England, in the days when the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) was universally used, and in the days when evangelicals in the Church of England more than happy with that. How might a young person have been taught the elements of the faith in those times?

They might well have been encouraged to read The Catholic Faith: A Manual of Instruction for Members of the Church of England by W.H. Griffith Thomas, published in 1906. Griffith Thomas (1861-1924) was Principal of Wycliffe Hall in Oxford at the time, and his book seems to have been very popular. I’ve just finished reading the original edition (there’s something special about holding a book in your hands that is more than 100 years old, isn’t there?), but you 21st-Century types might prefer to read it online, in its revised edition of 1952. The note to this revised edition describes it as “this popular handbook” and notes that “Since it was first issued the book has passed through numerous editions, totaling 63,000 copies in all”.

The book is both comprehensive and concise, and very accessible. It serves as an introduction to the faith of the Catholic (i.e., universal) Church, in a way that follows closely the catechism of the BCP, and with a general approach that is not at all dissimilar to (good!) modern evangelical articulations of the faith. But it also serves as an introduction to the Church of England, particularly to the Book of Common Prayer. Finally, the third of the book deals with some “current questions”: issues of the day at the start of the 20th Century.

Probably the most useful part of the book, from my perspective, was the overview of the Book of Common Prayer, which is mainly to be found in chapters 6-15 of the second part. I had been looking for a simple commentary on the BCP, and this serves the purpose well.

Vote Green on 22 May!

I haven’t had much time for blogging lately, but I interrupt my (non-)blog silence for a brief party political broadcast.

I’ll be voting for the Green Party on 22 May, in both the European and local elections. (In fact, for the latter, as I’m fortunate enough to be living in Bebington, I’ll be voting for myself!) If I had more time, I’d give you some of my own reasons for voting Green. If I had even more time, I’d try to argue that the European Parliament actually matters, and that the European elections are not just a sideshow to the UK General Election. Suffice it to say that I don’t think the Green Party is perfect, but I do think it is saying some extremely important things that are otherwise almost entirely absent from British political discourse.

So I leave you first with a video:

And then with the Green Party mini-manifesto, which is very brief and very readable:

What is ordained ministry?

I was asked to write something about the difference between lay and ordained ministry, with particular reference to the Church of England. Here it is…

I once saw a church which listed as its ministers, ‘everyone in the church’. This is entirely appropriate, as all Christians are called and equipped to share in ‘the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:12).1 Through the Spirit, each member has been given an important role in the body, so that no one can be told, ‘I have no need of you’ (1 Corinthians 12:21). As such, ‘when each part is working properly,’ it becomes possible for the body to ‘grow so that it builds itself up in love’ (Ephesians 4:16). Through Jesus, our high priest, we are all able to ‘offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name’ (Hebrews 13:15). It is therefore the whole church, and not a subset of the church, that is being built up ‘to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 2:5).

All Christians should therefore seek to use their gifts to build up the church. Some will be particularly gifted in caring for others. Some will be particularly gifted as encouragers. Some will be particularly gifted in understanding the Scriptures, and in helping others to hear what God is saying to the church today. Some will have time available to them. Some will have other resources and abilities. All should heed Paul’s exhortation: ‘Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them’ (Romans 12:6).

But is this all that needs to be said about the body of Christ? Is it simply a matter of each individual Christian using his or her gifts as they find themselves personally directed by the Spirit?

There is no doubt that some churches seek to function in this way. Rejecting an unbiblical ‘one-man ministry’, they set out to adopt a kind of ‘every-member ministry’ in which no person is set above any other person. But often, in due course, whether formally or informally, those churches come to recognise certain people as having a particular responsibility over the rest of the church—the responsibility of oversight.

This is reflected in the New Testament. The body of Christ is described not as an unstructured entity, but as something which is ‘held together by every joint with which it is equipped’ (Ephesians 4:16) and ‘nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments’ (Colossians 2:19). The church functions in a structured way, and certain people are set apart to oversee the life of the body. These people have the office of elder or overseer, and they are assisted in their role by another group of people known as deacons. The word overseer translates the Greek word episkopos, from which we get our English word bishop, while the word elder translates the Greek word presbuteros, from which we get our English words priest and presbyter. In the context of the New Testament, elders and overseers were apparently the same people (e.g., Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7), although the church soon began to recognise a smaller number of those people as having a more ‘episcopal’ role within the wider church. (It is also apparently the case that the Greek word presbuteros carried none of the sacerdotal overtones of our English word priest, and it is difficult to imagine that Cranmer consciously intended to retain those overtones when he used the word priest in the Book of Common Prayer.) But in what follows my preferred term will be overseer, as I think it contains within it the essence of the distinction between lay and ordained ministry.


Government orders "lazy" population to get out of bed earlier

The British population has been described as “lazy” and chided for “excessive lie-ins”, in a scathing attack by the Chancellor.

“The reason the economy is going so badly is that you lot are just too lazy,” Osborne said. “The Markets are not happy. They demand austerity. And that means less time to sleep in the mornings.”

George Osborne delivered his speech to announce the start of a seven-month trial period, beginning on 30 March, in which the whole population is expected to get up an hour earlier. In order to prevent any protests, even from students, the introduction of the new regime will be presented as though it were something the clocks were doing, entirely of their own accord. Osborne explained: “As a country we are progressing. We are going forward. The economy is going forward. And the clocks are going forward too. We must obey the clocks.”

If the economic crisis is still unresolved after the trial period, it is anticipated that the Chancellor will announce in October that the population is too “lazy” and needs to stay up later in the evenings.