This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dead Formalism

There are many people who have accused Christians in liturgical churches of "dead formalism," largely due to misinformation and phobias against that evil phantom they call "Tradition" as well as that other cussword they call "Roman Catholic." Romophobia and an aversion to tradition are two things that a lot of Protestant Evangelicals and Charismatics are afflicted with, largely due to a lot of misunderstanding and bad teaching, and it is something that needs to have correction as quickly as possible. However, I have addressed that in a couple of other entries, so that is not what we are going to do here today. In this particular treatise, I am going to be directing some criticism towards some of my fellow liturgical church folks, as unfortunately some of the Protestants are given good reason to think like they do by some liturgical Christians who don't really understand their own church and only do what they do because "that is the way it has always been done." This is not a correct attitude either, and as a result many who partake of the Mystery of the Eucharist do so in ignorance themselves. Thus, it fuels the flames of the anti-traditionalists and Romophobes, and provides them ammunition to attack the good aspects of liturgical worship as well as abuses, and they are so blinded by the poor example many in our churches set that they lump anything that slaps as "catholic" together, and are guilty of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. We liturgical Christians have much to account for in that regard, and that is what I am going to address today.

Barb and I belong to a small traditional Anglican parish (known as "continuing Anglican" due to the fact many of them are conservative theologically and pulled out of the American ECUSA because of innovations the latter added to the liturgy, many of which were unscriptural, beginning in the late 1960's.) made up of a dozen or so "cradle Anglicans" who are largely over 60 in age (as a matter of fact, we are the youngest people in attendance!). Many of them were unhappy with the so-called "innovations" of ECUSA in the 1970's, and although rightfully so, unfortunately this dissatisfaction in many cases was due to "keeping things as they are" rather than a true spiritual renewal. As a result, they have what is called a "maintaining faith" rather than a growing faith, and many of them feel perfectly satisfied with just attending church once a week to fulfill their religious duty, and their faith ends when the Mass ends on Sunday morning, at least until the next week. As a result, although the Liturgy itself is actually very Scriptural, attending it is about as pleasant as a yearly prostate exam, to be honest; it is dry, no hymns, and the true beauty of the Liturgy -based on the 1928 Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which is a rich liturgy theologically - is lost in the agonizing passivity of the way this particular group celebrates it. Indeed, "celebrate" in this context is a stretch of the imagination; it is supposed to be a celebration, but the monotony of it makes it a torture. The Eucharist - the center of our worship as liturgical Christians, as it is the reason why we are Christians in the first place! - should not be a dreaded chore to just slog through once a week and then put on a shelf until the following Sunday. It is LIFE!! The Body and Blood of Christ are mystically present in bread and wine, and the sacramental importance of this is the REAL PRESENCE of Christ! Yet, this deadness, this mere is so tragic. I have been listening in my private devotions recently a CD teaching series by Malcolm Smith, a former Charismatic Bible teacher who is now an Anglican bishop himself, entitled The Power of the Holy Spirit in Liturgy. What I have been gleaning from this rich study, which itself is over 17 years old, has begun to revolutionize my own faith, and for the first time in a long time I am starting to feel spiritually revived. And, as I do so, I am noticing things I haven't seen before. I am once again learning about the powerful Scriptural symbolism in the Liturgy of the Church, and the passion I once had those many moons ago is starting to awaken after so many years of hibernation. And, looking at the dry, lifeless way that many who are cradle members of liturgical churches attend Liturgy is beginning to disturb me. And, being hungry spiritually now for the sacramental aspects of my faith, I am finding myself as out-of-place as a Baby Ruth bar in a sangria bowl at a Donald Trump formal, and I am feeling the conviction to speak out. Therefore, this is my challenge to those who "go through the motions" Sunday after Sunday - WAKE UP!!! There are Protestants and others who are watching you, and you are not giving them a convincing witness of your faith; what is the matter with you??? Time for you people to return to Liturgy 101, which some of you haven't had since your First Communion ceremonies, and the charge is for YOU to renew your faith. Perhaps if some of our Protestant brethren saw what TRUE sacramental worship was about, they may not hate it as much. It is more than dead formalism, so it is time we communicate that.

Many "Cradle Catholics," "Cradle Anglicans," and "Cradle Orthodox," among others, do not understand the perspective that those of us who "convert" to the liturgical Church later in life are coming from, and in some cases we make the "cradle saints" uncomfortable. I was never a Catholic growing up; I didn't even become chrismated as a Catholic until I was 30 years old. Rather, I was raised in an old-time Pentecostal environment in which liturgy was at best some foreign practice that immigrants who worked in the mines back in north-central West Virginia where I grew up did. However, the liturgical Church fascinated me from an early age, as there was a beauty and tangibility attached to it that made faith in Christ more feasible to me than did the more abstract, ghostly faith of the typical Evangelical/Pentecostal congregation does. As I became a Christian and was baptized when I was 16, I began to gravitate towards something that was a little more formal and expressive, and by the time I accepted a call to ministry and went off to Bible College in my early adult years, I began to incorporate liturgical elements into my own ministry as I spoke at churches, etc., and people who knew me as a lay Foursquare Pentecostal minister also knew I marched to the proverbial different drummer! Finally, in 1994, I slowly began to attend liturgical services beginning at an Episcopal charismatic parish in Lakeland, FL, and in ensuing years I gradually came to exclusively attend liturgical services. This all culminated in Easter of 2000, when I was received into the Catholic Church as a Maronite-rite Catholic. The spirituality and liturgy of the Christian East has given me a particular interest, and the richness of the Christian East has redefined my spirituality in such a way that I have even come to appreciate greater some of my Pentecostal roots in a new way. That being said, let me now address the "cradle people."

For those of you born and raised on the pew of a typical Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican Church, let me say this - you have been blessed with a rich spiritual legacy. However, many of you take that for granted, and you know not what you have. Some of you have even become spiritual Pharisees, so critical of new converts that often you are responsible for destroying the faith of some people, and God WILL require of you their blood at your hand, make no mistakes about it! That may be harsh to some of you, and pardon that tone, but this is serious business, folks; your Sunday morning slog-through of the Liturgy is not good enough! You all need to re-examine why you are doing this - remember, this is not just a little bland cookie and a sip of wine you are partaking of, but rather the very Body and Blood of our Savior, who is really present in those elements. Yet, some of you take it so flippantly - some of you are less concerned with your souls and seem to be more interested in what type of cake you are going to have at coffee hour. And then, you wonder why people don't take you seriously as a church! Then, when people do express an interest and visit liturgy on Sunday mornings, I have actually heard "staunch" church members ridicule and criticize such people, and you expect them to come back to visit?? You people need to be horse-whipped, seriously!!!! And, I have heard other stupid and petty gripes - they don't want hymns sung, the incense gives them allergies, etc. I say to you people again - wear earplugs and take a Benadryl, as you don't have to take people to hell with you! God help us as liturgical Christians if we don't get it together!! My spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, shares some of these same concerns - and has a lot less mercy with this nonsense than I do! - when he writes the following in his book Sacramentalized But Not Evangelized:

The irony is painful and too tragic for words. They are in Christ's Church without knowing Christ. They are in His House yet have never met the Master and Head of the household. They are so close to Christ and yet so far. They touch Him and He touches them and yet they miss the power of His redeeming love and the victory He has won over sin, sickness and death. They mistake the forms and symbols for the real thing, and end up cheating themselves of the life of joy, peace and glory that comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The sacraments of the Church are a two-edged sword. They can bless and sanctify you, if you are in a right relationship with God. However, they can be received to your judgement and condemnation if you are in an unrepentant state of sin (I Corinthians 11:27) Eusebius Stephanou. Sacramentalized But Not Evangelized (Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing, 2005) pp. 68, 79.

Ironically, there are many people that this applies to even more so today, as there are people sitting in the pews of traditional, conservative churches who are not really Christians. They are leaders in the churches in some cases, and always have something to say when something new that would benefit the church is proposed (usually, they are the loudest opposition because the light of spiritual renewal illumens the darkness of spiritual laziness, which threatens their position a lot of the time), but when it comes to really committing themselves to serving Christ with their whole being, they are too comfortable - they like the prestige of being a leader in a church (sadly, some priests don't even discern this at all!) but they don't want to surrender themselves to Christ and allow the cleansing Blood of Jesus, who loved them enough to die for their sins, to transform their lives. An example of this is one individual in a parish we went to. Although a vocal person, there was just something about his spirit that really bothered me, and to be honest I didn't want to be around the man. He was in leadership in the small parish, always had an opinion on everything (even his own wife had to tell him to shut up sometimes actually!) yet when deeper spiritual matters were brought up he was always one of the first to offer opposition, and Satan used this man to impede the growth of that parish. To my knowledge, this man is still in a leadership position today, although the parish is on the verge of closing and the rest of the membership doesn't seem to care. Sadly, the faith this parish is supposed to represent is necessary to the community in which it is located, because people are hungry - it is a sacramental/liturgical parish too, and could offer so much to a culture whose Christianity is dictated by televangelists and Rick Warren books. Yet, there it sits, year after year, never growing, and never going anywhere. They have the money and resources available to invest in ministering to their community, but choose not to; this group will not even invest in a processional cross, which personally I understand to be essential to a liturgical parish (Processional crosses can be purchased economically too, so that eludes me!). People have called to inquire, but the priest and other people have rebuffed these inquiries because they refuse to grow because they are too comfortable with themselves and don't want to have the proverbial boat rocked. Sadly, given the age demographic of this group (WAY over 60 is average for 95% of the congregation), the church may die forever when the last geriatric member dies. Truly sad.

Any rate, my premise here today is that to be traditionalist is not synonymous with being dead, although some members of these parishes seem to think so. Tradition, especially the rich Christian heritage that liturgical churches preserve, is a living faith, and it needs to be communicated as such. Therefore, we need to take seriously the charge given in the Roman Mass which says, at conclusion, "Let us go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord, Alleluia!" We best do that as liturgical/sacramental Christians in the practice of our faith - if we are serious about it, others will take us seriously. So, time to wake up from spiritual hibernation and get to that task at hand, as our time may be short. God bless and be with you.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Liturgy and the Holy Spirit

This teaching is going to be a little different from others, because I will not be quoting a lot of Scripture this time. As part of my morning devotions today, I listened to part of a very good set of teachings by Malcolm Smith called The Power of the Holy Spirit in Liturgy. As I listened to the first section, entitled "What is Liturgy?" I got a few thoughts of my own relating to my experiences over the years. Today, that is what I want to share with you, so this will be somewhat of a testimony then.

I came into liturgical worship myself rather late in life - I was 25 years old when I began attending liturgical services regularly, and was 30 before being chrismated into the Catholic Church as a Maronite-rite Catholic. Many of you who already know my story are aware I grew up as a Pentecostal basically, although I was born again at age 16 in a Southern Baptist church. However, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that was somewhat diverse, and through marriage and subsequent cousins, we acquired a large branch of the family that was Roman Catholic themselves. My late aunt, Ruth Turner Schroeder, married a man who came from a large Catholic family originally from the Buffalo, NY, area, and my uncle, her brother Maynard Strahin, married her sister-in-law from the same family. Additionally, many of our family originally native to West Virginia ended up in the big city of Baltimore in the early 1960's, and I myself grew up in the neighborhood of Wilkins Avenue in west Baltimore when I was very young. Some of the German Catholic Schroeder cousins also had migrated to Baltimore, and being my Aunt Ruth had multiple schlerosis at the time and was pretty much incapacitated by her condition, Mom and I stayed with her and two of her children, Gale and Greg. Being Gale and Greg were raised Catholics by their father's folks in NY, Gale especially attended Mass pretty regularly in those years. A lot of times, being Mom wanted me to get some religious teaching, she allowed me to go to Mass with Gale then, and it was actually nice. Although a FAR cry from the little mountain churches I was used to, the basilica-like structure of that large Catholic parish in Baltimore nonetheless held an awe over me as a 5-year-old kid, and from that point I have always since had a great deal of respect for the Catholics and their worship. As I grew older and began to understand more, I came to a place in my own life where I needed to know Christ personally, and thus at the age of 16 I was born again. One strong conviction I had as a new Christian was a desire for a tangible faith, one that I could actually reach out for without all the esoteric spiritual jargon that one often finds in Pentecostal and fundamentalist circles, and even as a new Christian I began to be attracted to liturgical worship. Now, mind you, although it is not rampant it is nonetheless feasible to have a liturgical/sacramental conviction as a Baptist or Pentecostal (many African-American congregations of these traditions are a good testament of that actually) and I began to develop one at almost an immediate time after I was baptized in that little Baptist church I became part of in Rowlesburg, WV. One way I did that was to often - once every couple of weeks or so - attend Mass on occasion at St. Philomena's parish there in Rowlesburg upon invitation by two local Lebanese Maronite ladies that owned businesses there. As I did, I began to learn a lot, but it was largely latent for several years. However, that would soon change, as things would progress at a rapid pace after I graduated high school and went off to college in FL.

Let us fast-forward now to the year 1990. It was my first year of college in Graceville, FL, and although I attended a Baptist college, I was no longer Baptist. Back around June 21, 1989, while I was spending the summer with Dad in Brunswick, GA, before going off to college, I began to open myself up to something new as I began to understand more about it, and that of course was the Pentecostal experience. Up until that time, this would have left a bad taste in my mouth, because what I personally associated Pentecostal churches with was this legalistic, judgemental picture of the ignorant mountain churches (or so I thought at the time - it turns out many of those churches were actually telling the truth though later) Mom forced me to go to as a kid that literally scared the hell out of me talking about hell, the Tribulation, etc. The churches themselves were actually not the problem, but rather a bad experience brought on by my mother's then mixed-up faith. Once I really understood what Pentecost was all about, it was actually quite easy to embrace it, because it afforded a joy, a more real relationship with Christ, that until that point I didn't have. And, it opened me up to many things that radically revolutionized my personal faith. But, it was also an important step on my own road to where I was going, and an important event one Friday night in October 1990 confirmed this in a profound way.

After becoming baptized in the Holy Spirit in June 1989 at a little Pentecostal Holiness Church in Brunswick, GA, I began to have a deeper hunger for spiritual growth, and as a result I eventually left the Baptists to become part of the Foursquare denomination. When I did that, things began to change because I began to learn much about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and one that particularly became of interest was prophecy. Due to an invitation from a visitor to our Foursquare church in Dothan, AL, we visited that night in October 1990 this large non-denominational church in Destin, FL, called Christian International. Back then, as they probably do now, CI had a Friday night service they called "School of the Prophets," and on this particular night they had a fellow by the name of Tom Nicholson ministering. At the end of the service, he began to prophesy over people, and when he got to me, he spoke a word I still remember to this day, and it was indeed a word from the Lord, although at that time I didn't fully understand it. What he said was this - he saw me in this deep well, and although I was looking up for someone to get me out, no one I thought would be there was, except Jesus Himself. Then, the vision shifted, and he saw me leading a processional of some sort with banners, and he said that when those banners were lifted up, people would literally be inebriated with the power of the Holy Spirit. Little did this man of God know that at that very time, I was contemplating incorporating liturgy into Pentecostal services as were many others then - the Convergence Movement as it was to be called was beginning to come into prominence at around this time, and it was largely people who, being Baptists, Pentecostals, and non-denominational charismatics, were beginning to study the Fathers of the early Church and were beginning to see that liturgy was an integral part of the NT Church! Liturgy with the gifts of the Spirit - now that was a combination and to some a contradiction in terms, but it was the essence of early Christianity. Four years later, we began attending a charismatic Episcopalian church in Lakeland, FL, and I began to understand this more fully so that by the time I became Catholic officially in the year 2000 at the Easter vigil, I was a sacramental Christian through-and-through. That essentially was my testimony as to how I became what I am spiritually today, but there are a couple of observations now I wish to make that more or less influenced me over the years.

One thing I noticed first off was that the Convergence Movement, although getting off to a good start and with spiritually-sensitive leadership initially, soon became lost in the melee that is the charismatic movement. As a result, as of late it has lost its edge, as now it unfortunately has a large percentage of "vested Pentecostals" who are on-board just to see what the next spiritual buzz is going to be. TRUE Liturigical spirituality should outlive spiritual fads. We take the best of what we have gotten from our spiritual pilgrimage and incorporate it into our liturgical experience, instead of just merely becoming another fad. As a result, in recent years I have gravitated personally toward a more traditional liturgy while at the same time maintaining a healthy belief in the spiritual gifts, etc. We can exercise gifts, and even in private devotion be as "Pentecostal" as we want, but the mistake of the Convergence Movement is that it tried to do that during the Eucharist, which isn't possible. Malcolm Smith deals with this in detail in his teaching when he said the liturgy serves as the banks of the river, while the water is our spirituality - if the banks overflow, the resulting flood will be devastating and leave a lot of debris and destruction in its wake. Our spirituality must indeed be vibrant, but our reverence for God as expressed in liturgical worship is what keeps spiritual enthusiasm contained in its proper balance without it becoming spiritual lunacy. That is an important lesson to learn.

A second observation I want to make regards converts to older liturgical churches. It must be understood that many traditionalist Catholic, Anglican, and other parishes broke away from the mainstream because the so-called mainstream church was going in some unscriptural directions - the Episcopalians in recent years come to mind as a perfect example, although to a lesser degree you can see it in a lot of Roman Catholic parishes as well - and they wanted to understandably preserve the Holy Tradition of the Church. Therefore, in a lot of traditionalist parishes, you have memberships that are mostly "cradle Catholics" or "cradle Episcopalians" who are not prepared for some others of us who are converts from non-liturgical churches yet are, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, attracted to the reverence and piety of, say, the 1928 BCP liturgy, the Tridentine Mass, or the Divine Liturgies of the Eastern Churches. Therefore, some resistance from the older membership can be felt by the new converts, as many of the older members have done what they have done for years because "that is the way we do it" without knowing why they do it. New converts to these parishes are hungry, and since many of them are former Pentecostals and Baptists, they may have been used to a more active church life whereas the "cradle Catholic" is content with only attending Mass once a week (if that even, in some cases!). Before long, this apathy on behalf of the traditional parish - which should know better, BTW! - saps the joy out of the new converts, and they either reluctantly resign themselves to it and become "Sunday morning Christians" themselves, or they move on. This is tragic, and I have felt this personally from parishes we have been part of, which is why I am writing this with such candor. The 1928 BCP liturgy, as used by traditional Anglicans, is truly a beautiful liturgy! It is rich in Scripture, it exhorts the participant to take seriously the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and unlike the inferior and dumbed-down 1979 Book used by the mainstream Episcopalians, the 1928 is free of politically-correct hippie-speak and sticks to the tradition of the Church Catholic. Yet, in some traditional Anglican parishes, sitting through the Mass is often like getting a root canal - you want it to be over, or you want someone to shoot you and put you out of your misery! And, there are those other parishioners in these churches - they don't like using incense, for instance, because the senior warden's wife has allergies. You know what, I have some advice for the dear lady - take a Benadryl!!! These old traditional liturgies are beautiful and rich in doctrine and spirituality, and they only need to have the Holy Spirit enliven the people to have a hunger to learn what it truly means to worship God in spirit and in truth, and what the Real Presence is all about. We don't come to church to gain brownie points to get into heaven, as many so incorrectly think, but rather to worship God. And, what better way than through the hands-on expression, utilizing all of our God-given senses, than the Liturgy itself?? These are some things to take to heart for both laity and clergy, and may we do so.

The point in talking about all this is simple - good, conservative churches that uphold the rich traditions given to us over 2000 years are harder and harder to come by, as most churches are given to spirits of entertainment and others are pushing politics rather than following Christ. Therefore, as traditional liturgical Christians, we are called to be different - we are a peculiar people and are about as countercultural as one can get, and most important, we have an unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ to share with the world around us. And, people are looking - more young people for instance are now seeing the value and structure of "old-time religion" and are beginning to seriously consider it. And, for those of us who have either walked that path previously, or those who had the privelege of being raised in a traditional liturgical environment, it is a stellar opportunity. Let us not take it lightly, as the blood of their souls could be accounted for at our hands if we do. God bless your week.