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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Year-End Perspectives

To begin, 2013 has been an interesting year, one of ups and downs.   But, it is also the third year of these articles, and as I get ready to enter a fourth there is a lot to talk about regarding the past year, and as a wrap-up I wanted to do just that.

1.  Graduate School

At the end of August, I completed my first year of graduate school at Southeastern University, but the story gets complicated at that point.  My experiences over the past year led me to some important decisions, and 2013 was a watershed year in that regard.

Being at SEU for graduate studies was nothing new - I got my BA from there back in 1996.  However, much has changed about the campus since I got my undergraduate degree, and it was like landing on a different planet upon returning.  Back when I was an undergrad, Southeastern was called simply Southeastern College, and at that time it was the second-largest educational institution affilliated with the Assemblies of God denomination.  Also, back then it was still solidly Pentecostal and fairly conservative, although even then some things began to change.  However, upon returning there for graduate studies last year, I was in a continual state of culture-shock at what had transpired in less than 16 years after I had gotten my Bachelor's.  A few years back Southeastern gained the status of university and renamed itself accordingly, but with that change came a change in leadership, faculty, etc.  Many of the newer faculty in the Religion Department there, I am shocked to say, are advancing an agenda that is out of whack with the spiritual heritage of the school itself, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by other alumni and even some current students.  There is more social activism, and also a tendency among the current faculty to Pentecostalize some outright heretical people (Jurgen Moltmann, James Cone, and other modern "theologians," for instance), although what they are really accomplishing is secularizing themselves.  The mentality of many of these professors is personified in the theologies of people such as Jurgen Moltmann, who interpret Christianity as a sort of "breaking in of the kingdom" into the physical (Moltmann terms this "Theology of Hope") and therefore the danger exists of turning Christianity into a panentheistic system of "God being in all."  Therefore, all of a sudden, the mentality of Christian ministry changes to that of an an "agent of uplift" who embraces the secular to see the sacred rather than transforming the souls of men through the message of salvation of Christ as embodied in the Cross.  So, now, all other religions, and indeed secularism, become "good" because all theology has become relative to the whims of changing culture - note that word change, as it denotes a "good thing" to such people.  Although such mentalities are lofty and noble, they are in the end exercises in futility because they are not in accord with Scripture nor with the teachings of the Church throughout the ages.  The eminent late Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann addresses this when he notes that these futile attempts to overcome secularism by embracing it (al a Moltmann) are in reality a surrender to secularism (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World {Crestwood, NY:  St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 2004} p. 109).  And, the way Schmemann defines secularism is thus - a negation of worship (p. 118).  Southeastern University is a picture of this as it currently stands - in the past, when there was more of an emphasis on worship (by that, I don't mean a singing of happy-clappy songs to a bad rock band, but rather true devotion to God in all areas of life), the spiritual climate was more vibrant.  Indeed, in Southeastern's past there were many life-transforming revivals on that campus that touched the hearts of students and faculty alike; many older alumni testify quite fondly of that.  In recent years though, a spiritual revival has evaded that campus, as the once-anticipated campus-wide revival meetings every year have been replaced by these droning, boring "Leadership Forums" that consist of well-known businessmen and politicians (and the occasional Emergent Church guru) spending a week reciting mission statements and telling people how to sequence all the bells and whistles to "attract" people to their churches, etc.  Altar services have now been replaced with Six Signa certificates, in other words.  Seeing all of this happen made me face a hard reality that I needed to leave this campus, and thanks to godly counsel from my Archbishop, I withdrew at the end of August and now will be continuing my education elsewhere, which I will briefly address.

A couple of weeks ago, I received some joyful news that I was accepted into the Master of Theological Studies program at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and my financial aid was awarded so that I can begin studies in January by Distance Education.  Looking at the curricula of Franciscan, it is quite refreshing to see that there is still a school out there still faithful to the teachings of the the Church and the Holy Scriptures, and is truly spiritually vibrant.  I anticipate graduating from the program in the summer of 2015, provided all goes smoothly, and the good news is that I can do almost all of it from the comfort of my own office, save six credits I have to do in-residence at Steubenville in the coming year.  I will be on occasion posting my progress, as it will be keeping me busy for some time.

2.  ACC Diocesan Synod 2013

Another major event in our lives this year came when this past January our parish chose me to be the voting delegate to our Synod in Athens, GA.  It was an honor I gladly accepted, and indeed, the Synod was life-changing for me.  We were up there from May 1-3 of this year, and the Synod itself was held at St. Stephen Pro-Cathedral in Athens, a beautiful church just south of town.  I will talk some about the experience, as well as share some observations.

St. Stephen Pro-Cathedral, Athens, GA
 
 

The magnificent pipe organ at St. Stephens
 
The altar


 


 

The Synod started off with a very beautiful sung High Mass at the church itself that morning we arrived, and the worship was beautiful with the magnificent pipe organ.  Later, as a delegate of the House of Laity, I was also required to give a short report for our parish, which I was able to do without any problem.  One interesting aspect of the Synod was the visiting bishop from the Diocese of New Granada (in Columbia and all South America), Bishop German.  Although the Bishop could not speak a word of English, he nonetheless was a pleasure to meet, as he is a man of sincere humility and godliness, and as a spiritual leader he is not afraid to get his hands dirty by doing construction, etc., when the need arises for it.  According to some other delegates to Synod, he also was having a well-deserved vacation and was having a blast visiting much of the US.  I look forward to seeing more of him in subsequent Synods.
 
Bishop German (left) of the New Granada Diocese, and Archbishop Haverland (right), Primate of the ACC.
 
The Synod had a good attendance, with many delegates from all of the 26 or so parishes, and it was actually neat to get to meet and know a lot of the clergy and laity of our Diocese.  Another surprise came later though - it turns out that a former professor at the Baptist college in Graceville, FL, where Barb and I met has become part of the ACC too!  Dr. Patrick Malone used to teach music years ago, and if memory serves me, Barb actually sang in one of his campus choirs.  In recent years, Dr. Malone began serving as organist at St. Andrews in Tallahassee, and soon felt led of God to become part of the ACC.  At present, he is pursuing studies at Nashotah House Seminary in order to prepare for Holy Orders, as he feels led to be a priest.  Somehow, although he was at Synod, I missed crossing paths with him, but now I know to look out for him at the next one.  
 
There was a serious note at the Synod as the Archbishop addressed some concerns and challenges we as the ACC face now and in the future.  The good news is that the ACC is pretty stable, both financially and membership-wise as well, and many new people are infusing the ACC with new life as they are coming in from other church traditions - many former Roman Catholics for instance, as well as former Evangelicals and Pentecostals like myself.  Up until fairly recently, as a matter of fact, the ACC was made up of a core membership of aging dissidents who had left the Episcopal Church in the 1970's over theological liberalism creeping into the Church, and up until 2005 or so the ACC was rather stagnant spiritually.  Archbishop Haverland has been a huge blessing to the ACC, and he does truly have vision for the Church, but like a good shepherd and father over his people, he also has concerns, and valid ones too.  Two major challenges to the ACC's growth have happened in the past several years that have impacted directly.  The first occurred a few years ago, when a number of conservative bishops pulled out of the Episcopal Church after the latter consecrated an openly gay (and non-celibate) "bishop" by the name of Gene Robinson.  Many of these disaffected Episcopalians sought out (and received) the covering of several Anglican bishops in what is called the "Southern Cone" (mainly African nations such as Nigeria and Rwanda, but also India and Latin America as well).  These new Anglican fellowships eventually consolidated into what is now called the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and are often called as a movement the "Anglican Realignment."  Although for the most part theologically conservative, the Realignment bishops still by and large will ordain women to the clerical orders and also use the 1979 BCP, both points of contention with the ACC and our sister groups, which resulted from a 1977 split with the Episcopal Church over similar issues and are known as the "Anglican Continuum."  Archbishop Haverland, upon addressing the Synod, noted that the presence now of the ACNA may draw away potential membership from the ACC, and he has appropriated addressed it in a joint statement with two other Continuing prelates, Archbishop Grundorf of the Anglican Province of America (APA) and Archbishop Marsh of the Anglican Church in America (ACA).  The statement by these and other Continuing Church bishops can be found on our ACC webpage at http://www.anglicancatholic.org/speeches-and-correspondence?class=greenlink.   

The second issue of note was of fairly recent origin and involved a measure by the Roman Catholic Church called Anglicanorum Coetibus, which essentially provides for clergy of various Anglican communions to be fully received into the Roman Catholic Church.  The impetus for this actually started around 2008 or so, and many Continuing Churchmen opted to "swim the Tiber," which in turn had a very adverse effect on many Anglican jurisdictions.  This has borne some good fruit, however, in that the once-fragmented Continuum is now working more closely together - there are talks now about intercommunion among the ACC, APA, and ACA, which would be welcomed by many of us.  Not much about this was addressed at Synod, but Archbishop Haverland does have a published statement if you wish to read it at http://www.anglicancatholic.org/a-response-to-anglicanorum-coetibus?class=greenlink.

All-in-all, the Synod was a good experience for us, and it affirmed that the ACC is now my permanent church home.  I would not have it any other way either, as the ACC has great people, both clergy and laity, and we also have a godly Archbishop who is sensitive both to the voice of the Holy Spirit and to the needs of those he shepherds.  Thanks be to God for Archbishop Mark Haverland, and may he have a long and fruitful tenure as our Prelate.  


3.  Writing Projects
 
In the past year, I have gotten a lot of updated information regarding several previous articles I have written, in particular my "Highways and Hedges" series I began work on in 2012.  In particular there are some liturgical/sacramental Churches I have updated information on, and I will share here.
The first is the now-extant Catholic Apostolic Church at Davis (CA), which at one time was served by the late Australian-born Mor Elijah Coady (1928-2010).  Mor Elijah was hard to research until I found his birth name, Ronald Coady, and when I searched that out I received a wealth of information about his legacy and ministry.  It turns out that there is a website (http://www.harvestfieldsministries.com/bishop-ron-coady---bish.php) that commemorates his memory, and included on it are a number of his recorded sermons which can be freely downloaded.  I plan on doing just that and saving them to audio discs later in the coming year.  The story of his Davis, CA-based church can be found at the original "Highways and Hedges" article I authored in 2012.

Mor Elijah (Bishop Ronald Coady) (1928-2010)

Along the same lines, and dealing with content in the same earlier article, I was also able to find a picture of Bishop Stephen Kochones' church,  the American Orthodox Catholic Church, at 801 Walnut Street in Pasadena, CA.  Here it is:
 
The American Orthodox Catholic Church, Pasadena, CA (Bishop Stephen Kochones)
 
Perhaps the richest discovery though, as well as the most recent, was some valuable information I finally was able to access concerning Archbishop John Marion Stanley's Orthodox Church of the East.  A few weeks previous, I managed to find the phone number in Washington for Archbishop Stanley, and had a very lengthy but enjoyable conversation with his wife, Miss Sara.   Miss Sara is a very sweet lady, articulate and sharp for 86 years, and she provided a lot of good information for me regarding her husband's ministry.  Archbishop Stanley is still very much alive, at age 91, and resides at a veterans home on Vashon Island, WA.  Miss Sara informed me that recently a new bishop was consecrated, Bishop Stan Smith in Daly City, CA, to succeed Archbishop Stanley, and I was able to access a phone number and website for Bishop Stan and also had an informative conversation with him the following day.  Both Bishop Stan and Miss Sara Stanley shared in rich detail the remarkable spiritual legacy of Archbishop Stanley - for instance, as I already knew, Archbishop Stanley was a charismatic some years before the official Charismatic Renewal movement took off, and he was a close friend and associate of the late Demos Shakarian, who founded the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship (of which Archbishop Stanley was also one of the earliest participants).  The Archbishop was also briefly the only married Roman Catholic bishop in modern times for a brief period, as well as being an active member of the Hospitalier Knights.  So much more could be said about this great man of God's legacy, but I will wait until some printed material about his life and ministry becomes available, a project his wife and daughter are embarking on now.  
 
Archbishop John Marion Stanley today
 
Miss Sara Stanley, Archbishop Stanley's wife
 
Bishop Stan Smith, current prelate of the OCE
 
All-in-all, getting to talk to and know these great individuals has been a blessing in itself, and if you wish to find out more about the Orthodox Church of the East, Bishop Stan does have a good website which contains contact information - it is at  http://bishopstan.weebly.com/ - this page also includes some good downloadable audio and video teachings by the Bishop as well that may be of interest, some of which I hope to copy to disc for my library later.   As a side business, Bishop Stan also markets a line of original barbecue sauces and rubs (he is an avid barbecue conoisseur) as well as chocolate products.  Later on next year, I am going to order some of it to sample for myself actually.  If you are interested, Bishop Stan would appreciate the business, and he has a couple of websites you can access the goods from:  http://holychocolate.com/  (for his chocolate products) and http://burntsacrifice.com/ (for his barbecue sauces and rubs). 

As for other writing projects, many of them were school-related, although I did finish my Ephesians study and am getting ready to scan and edit it before sending it off to the publisher.  I also have an upcoming article in a theological journal, Watchman Theological Journal, on a Christian response to this resurgent Transhumanist agenda that is out there.  The Watchman Theological Journal is edited by Fr. Jack Ashcraft, a traditionalist Byzantine Catholic priest and a good friend who, interesting enough, is one of the few Catholic or Orthodox writers (besides myself, of course!) to tackle subjects such as the Genesis 6 reality of the Nephilim.  He likewise has some great programs and broadcasts available on his webpage, http://trueexorcist.com/, that are worth a listen.  

4.  Wrapping It Up
 
In retrospect, 2013 has been a busy and eventful year, not only for myself but for the religious world in general.  A new Pope, Francis, was elected this year, and I have some serious concerns that I won't divulge here but probably will address in another article in the future.  Also, Paul Crouch, the founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, as well as gospel music legend George Beverly Shea, passed away (Shea was 104!).  The Emerging Church movement continues to be an issue, and John MacArthur's rants against Pentecostals (much of it being ill-informed and badly-reasoned) were also subjects of personal interest.  Also, persecution of all Christians of true faith seems to be a major thing, from subtle legal attacks against Christian business owners in the US who refuse to make wedding cakes for gay couples to violent and deadly massacres of Assyrian and Coptic Christians in Egypt and Syria by Islamic militants.  Making that list is also a humble 23-year-old Pentecostal pastor in Tennessee, Andrew Hamblin, who was recently threatened with jail over his beliefs (he takes up serpents at his church as part of the worship) - despite one's attitude about serpent-handling, Hamblin's case is one we all as people of faith should be paying attention to, because the freedom to practice one's religious convictions is at stake.  Andrew was featured on a Discovery Channel series, Snake Salvation, this past year, and I found the series actually good.  I also got to know Andrew personally via Facebook, and consider him a friend and brother in Christ.  
23-year-old Pastor Andrew Hamblin, of LaFollette, TN.
 
Even high-profile Christian celebrities, such as Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson and actor Kirk Cameron, have been attacked for their convictions.  Robertson was almost censored by the network his show airs on, A&E, because the family says grace over their dinner at the end of each program and Phil prays "In Christ Jesus" at the conclusion. The powers-that-be at the network tried to make Phil stop praying because it might "offend Muslim viewers" and other such BS, but Phil stood his ground and asked them point-blank how many Muslims actually watch Duck Dynasty - of course, the show doesn't have a huge Muslim fanbase to begin with, and if some do watch and are offended, they can change the channel (which Phil also suggested - go Phil!).  A&E is in no position to dispute this either, because Duck Dynasty is earning them the highest ratings they have ever had, and they don't dare lose an audience!    Any rate, I too have felt some pressure from Facebook "trolls" and others who have attacked my stance on traditional marriage, and oftentimes these uninformed people will say "love is love -don't deny the gays love!" and other such crap.  However, with that logic, the pedophiles, bestialists, and other perverts could use the same argument - heck, even a rapist could use that logic!  I read recently of a Muslim trying to molest a horse and getting his face kicked in - I suppose that was "love" too??   Some of this logic these days - it brings to mind Romans 1:22; "professing to be wise they became fools."  Perversion is never to be equated with love, people - behaviors and lifestyle choices are also not to receive status as "minority groups" either.  Not politically-correct, I am aware, but I don't care - the Church has always defined marriage as between ONE man and One woman, and the state has no jurisdiction to say otherwise.  Marriage is a sacramental union, not a legal entitlement.  Therefore, government has no place dictating what defines a marriage - the Church does. 
 
Now, back on course, what is ahead for Sacramental Present Truths?   This year, it is time to start formulating my six-fold ecclesiology that will eventually be the substance of my MTS thesis, and I will be embarking on a series of articles to do just that.  Also, Appalachian theology - is there such a thing, and how can it be formulated?  I will be exploring that as well.   We are entering four years of this page, and as I do so I want to also focus less on apologetics and polemics and more on teaching, and in doing so I hope to enrich all who read these articles.  And, that being said, I hope you continue to stay tuned and check in from time to time.  The links to each new article are posted as well on my Facebook and other social media as they are published, so if you happen to be on Facebook, feel free to take a look.  
 
And, on that note, I want to close by wishing each one a blessed holiday season, a Merry Christmas, and God's blessings on you for a good 2014 year coming up.