The Gamaliel Principle Revisited
by The Right Reverend K.L. Ackerman, SSC, DD
34But a Pharisee in the council named Gama'li-el, a teacher of the law, held in honor by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a while. 35And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you do with these men. 36For before these days Theu'das arose, giving himself out to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was slain and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"
(Acts 5: 34-39)
In the course of Church History, Rabbi Gamaliel has been credited with the term “The Gamaliel Principle.” But, is this a subjective or objective principle as it relates to Christianity as a world- wide reality, it is objective Truth. However, as a general principle of assessment, could it possibly be subjective? Biblical proof texting and the incorporation of texts out of context have caused chaos for centuries. Contemporary debates very often utilize Biblical circumstances and events to prove or disprove innovations.
In the circumstances surrounding the question of whether or not to persecute and/or silence the Holy Apostles in the Acts of the Apostles account, an expert witness, highly respected by the Jewish people, with a remarkable pedigree, namely (Rabbi) Gamaliel (the elder) was asked to offer his opinion and advice regarding what to do with these men. His advice is often reduced to what is commonly called “The Gamaliel Principle” often rendered as “If it is of men it will fail; if it is of God it will prosper.” In fact, the phrase from Acts 39, “you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God” is often forgotten, since it is not a sound byte. Sadly, historically speaking, this principle - objective in presentation becomes subjective, as the reader must now determine if their position is of God or not. But with this principle comes a question: is the size of a movement indicative of God’s favor? One can look at a variety of movements since Gamaliel uttered these words, and can see that Heresies still abound, some world religions are growing, and unity becomes increasingly fragile. Is it possible to ask the questions: if a movement is of God, will it always be popular, will it always unite people, will it become firmly established? Certainly, to answer those questions one must have the long view rather than the short view. For many people today who are convinced that instantaneous answers are essential and should be texted or tweeted within the hour, history is very frustrating. I was recently told by a young priest that he was very tired of waiting for certain ecclesial decisions since he has “been in the battle” for thirty years. Thirty years - a lifetime of waiting for some, I suppose. A cursory review of the Hymn, “A mighty fortress is our God” may give us some perspective on our understanding of time, and the Creator of time’s understanding.
The Church for the last five decades has changed remarkably. This is in part due to the culture, but the dilemma will always be, are cultural innovations normative or extraordinary? Should cultural innovations be considered to be a mandate to the Church?
The ordination of women into the threefold ministry of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is an innovation. Objectively speaking, no matter how one approaches the subject, the fact remains that it is measured in decades. Protestant churches have had female ordination for a longer period of time, recognizing the fact that these Churches generally have one order of Ministry demonstrated in a per saltum fashion. Furthermore, such terms as “alter Christus,” and “Ikon of Christ” are not generally a part of their understanding of Holy Orders. This does not negate the value of that type of ordained ministry, but it is a different understanding, reflecting a view that was generally not espoused until four- and one-half centuries ago.
This, of course, leads us to a dilemma. Has the ordination of women objectively improved the nature of Holy Orders or not? Objective measurements are terribly difficult to apply due to societal changes, and socio-demographic shifts. Subjectively speaking, the proponents of the innovation will point to the accomplishments of holy women. One must concur that there has never been any question about the accomplishments of holy women - Church history, in particular can testify to that wonderful reality. The question is not proficiency, holiness, or success, but rather the presenting question, once again subjective in nature is, has this innovation contributed to greater Church unity, the cessation of division and unanimity?
We must now return to Gamaliel. In the end, who determines if the greater good has been accomplished when innovations are institutionalized? Should it be measured numerically, or should the mere ongoing existence of an innovation for several decades be the conclusion to the principle? Or should a democratic form of analysis be applied that produces laws of enforcement? There will be no tweets to these questions.
WILL EVANGELICALS AND ANGLO-CATHOLICS EVER GET ALONG?
It has been said that England and the United States are two nations divided by a common language. It is equally true that certain terms or categories mean different things in each nation. For example, the recently formed continuation of Anglican orthodoxy in North America consists of Evangelicals, Charismatics and Anglo-Catholics. In the United States these expressions have been less of a party than one would discover in the United Kingdom. That is, the General Convention was rarely a display, in recent decades, of one of these expressions vying for dominance or expressing itself in demonstrating that it had a voting block. In fact, the various attempts to express Biblical authority at General Convention had fallen upon an informal coalition of the three expressions. This past General Convention has made it clear that classical Anglo-Catholicism, classical Evangelicalism, and Charismatic expression are dead in the so-called councils of the Episcopal Church. Those who go to General Convention with some semblance of orthodoxy or minimal conservatism are quickly outvoted by a significant margin. Revisionism or as “they” like to say, “Progressivism” is the dominant force albeit that one may hear a few Renewal hymns, Eucharistic vestments, and enthusiasm.
In the UK it is a bit different. After thirty years of being marginalized, out of necessity in the United States, Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Anglo-Catholics have had to learn how to work together. This has not always been easy, and since some Evangelicals and some Charismatics approach ordination from a functional view instead of an ontological view, there have been, are, and will be some stumbling blocks. The reality is that in North America even if all the Continuum joined with Anglo-Catholics who have recently left the Episcopal Church, and those who have stayed in the Episcopal Church for property and/or investment issues, we have never had the critical mass nor the power to effect much change in the Episcopal Church. Even our famous ESA organizing event in 1989 which boasted a significant number was not enough to make a difference.
In the United Kingdom there has been a long-time tension between Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics. This has been expressed in theology, style, associations, societies, appointments, and preferment. Therefore, to assume that Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals can gather together to meet, let alone talk, requires creative imagination. This first major step may well have been accomplished in London in June as the inauguration of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans occurred. Skeptics and cynics exist in both parties, and black suits with black shirts are easily picked out from a collection of striped shirts and ties. Moreover, if one were to go to the average Anglo-Catholic parish and Evangelical parish on a Sunday one would wonder if they were even in the same Communion! The former typically uses the modern Roman Rite including praying for the Pope and the latter, if it uses a prayer book at all, will probably have the words projected onto a screen. One can go from singing the Angelus to listening to a praise band.
In the United States the extremes are not as great. Very few Anglo-Catholic parishes use the modern Roman Rite, and very few Evangelical parishes ignore some version of the Prayer Book. In addition, years of armed combat in the councils of the Episcopal Church have produced allies that have found creative ways to disagree, and yet work together.
It seems to me that the Church of England has learned from the Episcopal Church: heresy is worse than schism – a reverse of the mantra expressed by those who stay in the Episcopal Church as they witness the sinking of the ship. The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans may very well be able to find creative ways to work together for the common good without compromising the essential truths. The speakers at this remarkable day ranged from myself, Bp. John Broadhurst (FiF – chairman) and Bp. John Hind of Chichester to Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, Bp. Michael Nazir Ali and other remarkable Evangelical speakers. Abp. Jensen made the case for Anglo-Catholics as he said that we are only “guilty” of believing what Anglicanism has always believed.
Perhaps it is possible that the Anglican Church of North America will help set the stage for what is needed in the Church of England, namely a Third Province. Perhaps one of Forward in Faith’s predecessors, the Evangelical and Catholic Mission (ECM) is a symbol of hope for those who seek to work together albeit, coming from diverse perspectives.
SO - HOW LONG IS CHRISTMAS?
Or - Did the GRINCH steal Christmas or did the culture let him in!
By Bishop Keith L. Ackerman
I think it should not surprise us that in spite of the fact that the Christian Calendar (Kalendar) has a much longer history than the evolving, innovative Secular American Calendar, the Secular Calendar is winning. In fact, not only is it winning in the “secular world” (a redundant phrase) it is winning in Christian Churches with little sense of historicity who have eliminated the Calendar of the Church and replaced it with the “Christian Light” Calendar: Christmas (which has 12 days before December 25), Easter (which includes Good Friday) and Mother’s Day. While one might argue as to what is right or wrong, the reality is that most modern denominations and so-called “Bible Churches or “Non-denominational Churches” have eliminated virtually all Christian Feast Days. In areas where these types of churches predominate, we should not be surprised when our own people seem to be surprised to learn or remember what have been the Traditional Festivals/Feast Days of the Church. Sadly, whenever Feast Days are eliminated and the Liturgical Seasons are eliminated, we are met with a cultureless Christianity. Unfortunately, that means that secular “holidays” have replaced religious holidays or religious holidays become secularist versions of what they were instituted to be. Religious sociologists have coined the phrase “civil religion” which in our context means that when the Church drops festivals and holy days, the culture establishes something to fill the void. I will not burden you with “Christmas Break” and “Easter Break” versus “Winter Break” and “Spring Break.”
So........how long is Christmas? The Secular world, which has dragged some modern churches with them, seems to have Christmas begin either right before or right after Thanksgiving. There is no opportunity to focus on savoring the taste of the Thanksgiving meal, and enjoy family - because a new secular feast is celebrated the day after Thanksgiving, called “Black Friday.” It’s Christmas everywhere. On one hand, not unlike the birth of all children, we do spend the last month making preparations for the birth - it’s just that the expectant mother is not really up to celebrating parties that month. She is much too busy for the event - called “the birth.” Traditional Christians call that last month preparing for the Birth of the Baby Jesus - “Advent.” It is after the birth that friends and family come to celebrate the birth of the child. Sadly, for many who see the secular calendar as “official,” including modern churches, on the day after Christmas Day - it’s over! For traditional Christians, it has just begun, and for at least Twelve Days - it continues, with Holy Days (holidays) almost every day. Traditional Churches follow the Biblical pattern: Jesus is born, Jesus is circumcised and named on the 8th Day (January 1) and the Wisemen (sometimes called Kings) arrive bearing their gifts on January 6 - the Feast of the Epiphany. Of course, “enlightened people” will tell us that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 and that the Wisemen took years to complete their trek, but that type of person apparently does not understand the difference between observing important events versus writing a substantial paper regarding historicity. If one were to take that reasoning to a conclusion, then we should only celebrate Christmas every 33 years. Likewise, Good Friday and Easter - every 33 years, since most historians believe that Jesus’ birth, death and Resurrection took place within a 33-year period. It would be like saying that there is only one birthday for us - the day we were born, that every year we celebrate the anniversary of our birth and that we should NEVER celebrate that day except on the precise day at the precise time. Many people do not enjoy birthday parties at 2 A.M. but generally speaking, babies and parents do not always have a consultation before birth about the most convenient time for the mother. Moreover the “enlightened people” who are convinced that they have the inside track on Biblical generally offer no alternatives for observing these Biblical Feasts at the “historically correct” time.
So..............is January 6 - or its Eve (Sundown on January 5) the last day of Christmas? Yes and No. Certainly the Twelve Days are the Traditional Days of the Christmas Season, and technically, most Traditional Christians do not take ANY decorations down until the Epiphany - but, Forty Days after Christmas Day - again followed by traditional Christians - it is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which involves the Blessing of the Candles to be used that year in churches, as we sing the Song of Blessed Simeon, “To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the Glory of thy people Israel.” Indeed - Epiphany proclaims by virtue of the Adoration of the Magi who are from Gentile lands, that this Messiah, awaited for by the Jews for centuries, is for ALL people - Jews and Gentiles, and on February 2, St. Simeon once again proclaims that reality. Ironically many Americans who trace their heritage from Spain or a number of Hispanic countries have a traditional Cake served on Epiphany. In the cake is placed a Nino (baby figure) and the “winner” who finds the Christ Child in his or her piece of cake must now make and serve Tamales on February 2 - yes, the Feast day mentioned above.
So.....how long is Christmas? Well......in one sense - all year- since every Mass that is celebrated is a “Christ” Mass. In another sense, it is Twelve days long, and in yet another sense it is 40 Days long. But by then it is time for St. Valentine’s Day (no this saint did not shoot arrows at peoples’ hearts) and St. Patrick’s Day (no he did not drink green beer.) But there it is. For Christians we have a choice - simply go with the flow - do what the crowd does - or claim and reclaim our heritage. After all there is no law that mandates either (St.) Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day, so maybe it is Hallmark that determines what is and what isn’t a Feast Day? Can we take a day off from school or work because “I’m tired” but would never take a day off for Good Friday? In the end the questions is - did “they” take our Christian Calendar away or did “we” simply allow it to be taken? The same principle can apply in terms of our Faith. If attending a church on Sunday were suddenly “against the law” as it is and has been in several countries, would attendance decline in adherence to the law or would it increase because “no one is going to tell me what I can and can’t do.” If Christians were more firm in their Faith, much of the above would never have had to be written because all of the aforementioned observances would have continued since “it is what we always have done at all times and in all places” for over Two Thousand years.
FORWARD IN FAITH NORTH AMERICA
What’s in a Name?
“Forward in Faith North America” is a relatively new name given to generations of Catholic Witness in the United States. Even with the various name changes, most of which were conditioned by the circumstances of our vocation at that time, one thing remains clear:
Forward in Faith is the unified Catholic Witness for those who call themselves Anglicans. Over the years we have been called to particular emphases. As the American Church Union, we regularly called Episcopalians who were not immersed in the Catholic nature of Anglicanism to an awareness of our unbroken heritage as Catholics in England, pre-dating the arrival of St. Augustine in 597 A.D. Indeed, Bishops from York were present at the Council of Arles in 314 A.D. and also the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. - well before the 6th century endeavors of Pope St. Gregory in sending St. Augustine of Canterbury. Our unbroken heritage includes Monastic evangelization, Conversions, Marian appearances, Restorations, Reformations, and Movements, all a part of our heritage without one overpowering the other - a tapestry of Faith that eventually, even before the formation of a new Nation, established and nourished countless leaders in the New World.
Forward in Faith exists, in part, to recall the Church to her heritage - with a unique history, spirituality and liturgical expression: Eastern in her earliest theological roots and Western in her unique relationships in the Western world. Clearly those who do not know their history, or who define their history in terms of brief periods in time are unable to see the Spirit filled Movements of God’s grace in this remarkable expression of the Catholic Faith. Forward in Faith does not see its role as defensive, for what we proclaim is Jesus Christ in whom all that the Father has willed is Revealed. We seek to remind the Church that her Truth is Revealed and is not Evolutionary. Jesus Christ in His earthly ministry was not engaged in an incomplete Revelation that required later generations to revise so that His task would be completed in them. The Church is known as the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, and she embodies the “Vincentian Canon”- the three-fold test of Catholicity as articulated by St. Vincent of Lerins, (400-450 A.D.) namely “what has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” This is one of the tests that is utilized to evaluate Truth versus error. Thus, we oppose innovations and revisions to the Faith of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, as impossibilities, both for segments of Anglicanism but also, by implication to the Faith espoused by St. Jude - the Faith once delivered to the Saints. Simply put, we do not believe that we have the authority to change that Faith. Moreover, we believe that the burden of proof is placed on those who seek to alter the Faith. We defend the Faith, but we are not defensive.
As heirs of that unbroken Tradition, we recognize that in a rapidly changing, majority rules world, many may well see groups and movements such as Forward in Faith to be irrelevant. Indeed, for some we are reminders of what the Church has been. For some we exist to educate by introducing people to the Faith that has always been. For others we exist to recall them to what they have known and believed. In all things we exist to be used by the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who “is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). In an ever-changing world, people are looking for stability, and it is the Catholic Faith which provides it. Forward in Faith exists to demonstrate that faith by conferences, writings, books, magazines and personal witness - often in the jurisdictions in which we serve.
We are Catholic as we see ourselves as a part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church grounded in Biblical Faith and Sacramental presence - proclaiming Christ truly present as He articulated at His Last Supper. We are Orthodox as we proclaim the Creeds. We are Traditional as we preserve and proclaim the truth passed down from Jesus our Savior. We are Conservative as we conserve without alteration the gifts passed down to us from Apostolic times. We are Evangelical as we proclaim with enthusiasm the Good News of Jesus Christ who has called all of us to repentance and won for us Salvation which He freely offers to all who turn to Him.
We are Forward in Faith: grounded in an unbroken Heritage and moving Forward with a 2000-year Faith for generations to come. That is what is in a name.
July 1, 2018
“Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write, appealing to you, to contend for the Faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 3
Beloved in Christ,
As the Ambassador for Anglican and Ecumenical Affairs for Forward in Faith North America I must always remind people that we represent several jurisdictions in Anglicanism, and as such are blessed to have clergy and laity who are united in one purpose “contending for the Faith which was once delivered to the saints.” We continue to pray for our members in the Episcopal Church especially during their most recent General Convention as they witness ongoing issues that have caused many to leave most especially over the last five decades. Likewise, we pray for our members who are participating in ways that will reunite brothers and sisters in concordats, both specifically with Anglican jurisdictions and also with those who broadly come under the category of “non-papal Catholics.”
In particular we wish to commend the recent GAFCON gathering in Jerusalem for their boldness in proclaiming the Gospel and for standing in the face of non-Biblical revisions of the “Faith once delivered.” We commit ourselves to praying for the Most Rev. Foley Beach, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America and for the Most Rev. Ben Kwashi of Jos in Nigeria, as they soon will assume the critical leadership of the GAFCON movement. Most particularly we pledge ourselves to pray for Archbishop and Mrs. Kwashi as they continue to be attacked by Islamic forces, most recently just days after returning from Jerusalem. The unity of Anglicans specifically, and of Christians globally, is critical at this time in history as we see a divided Christianity being attacked by an ever-growing number of people united to destroy the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church - the Bride of Christ - the Body of Christ. The outside attacks on the Faith are regularly in the news, requiring Christians more and more to address the problems within the Body of Christ which prevent us from a unified response.
Forward in Faith, and its predecessors the Episcopal Synod of America, the Evangelical and Catholic Mission, the Committee on Apostolic Ministry, and the American Church Union have spoken clearly for decades about aberrations and innovations that have caused division in Anglicanism. Sadly, even some of our own have created new categories for the evaluation of innovative theologies. “Core Doctrine” and “First and Second Order Issues” are subjective terms and apart from not being able to be supported historically, can be used by anyone who is seeking to defend their reasons for revising the “Faith once delivered.” Forward in Faith has labored to maintain the highest level of Communion possible in the midst of the many changes that have been imposed upon Catholic Anglicans over the years. Our heritage is an unbroken one from Jerusalem to the lands that produced Saints such as Alban, David, Patrick, George, Augustine, Hilda and Dame Julian. Our unique Heritage has had a profound effect on countless Anglican Worthies, including C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot and numerous Monks, Nuns, and Missionaries. The various Catholic Congresses of the last century have articulated well the so-called English Patrimony of which we of Forward in Faith count ourselves heirs. Being an heir carries with it a responsibility of speaking the truth boldly but in love.
The matter of Holy Orders is not a second order issue for it is grounded not only in the Doctrine of Creation and in the Doctrine of the Incarnation with the implications well-articulated in the qualifications listed in the Pastoral Epistles. We are compelled to say that failure to address and resolve a major stumbling block to the Unity of Christianity, in particular with regard to the two larger Communions, will result in ongoing divisions and a precious loss of time in mobilizing Christians to combat the attacks from without and within. A truly Orthodox, truly Conservative, truly Traditional, and truly Missional approach must take place if we are to be engaged in reclaiming the world for Jesus Christ. Enshrining any moment or even several decades in Church history will not serve us well. A truly Conciliar approach is essential, which will mean reminding ourselves of the Historic Councils’ proceedings and revisiting how the Church has dealt with heresies of the past. Schism is counterproductive, but heresies which contain enough truth to be believable and somewhat convincing infect the Body.
We are intentionally named “Forward in Faith” as we continue to move into the future armed with the Gospel, the Sacraments, the Councils, the Apostolic Ministry - “Contending for the Faith once delivered to the Saints.
The Rt. Rev. Keith L. Ackerman, SSC, DD
Manners, Social Grace, Politeness, and Other Lost Arts
Recently I observed two men at two separate events who caught my attention. One man walked into the church wearing a baseball cap and left his hat on throughout much of the Mass. At the other event I witnessed a man walking into the restaurant wearing a baseball cap, and he wore it throughout the meal. Never mind the fact that he walked into the restaurant before the woman with him, and then plopped himself down into a chair allowing the woman to fend for herself. Let’s turn back the clock.
At minimum most people are taught to say “please” and “thank you.” In the past, upon receiving a gift, people said “thank you” to the gift giver, but then within the week, a thank you note was sent as a follow up. Gentlemen stood when a woman entered the room, and then sat down when she sat down. The same was true when the Clergy entered a room. When a gentleman knocked on the door, he removed his hat when the door was answered and he entered the room holding his hat until his hat and coat were taken by the person whom he was visiting. Gentlemen held the door for ladies and they tipped their caps as a sign of respect. By and large these several social graces have disappeared, among numerous others. Sadly, there is also an excuse for poor social graces, “After Feminism emerged, women don’t want me to hold the door or help them with their chair.” “What’cha see is what’cha get.” Unfortunately, the latter is probably true.
In the 1950’s it was not uncommon in Elementary Schools to have classes on social graces, including the appropriate way to communicate. Unconnected telephones were placed in the classroom and students were taught the social graces connected to making and receiving telephone calls. When we made a call, we said “hello” and we identified ourselves. We then asked if we were interrupting anything and if this was a convenient time to talk. If it was a convenient time, then we proceeded by stating the purpose of our call. We never were to interrupt the other person while they were talking. We were told always to conclude the call graciously before we said “good-bye. It was also commonly understood that calls should not be made before 9:00 A.M. nor after 5:00 P.M. unless it was a social call and the other person had indicated the appropriateness of calling. These points, of course, are somewhat obvious in terms of demonstrating some level of appropriate manners and social grace, but many telephone communications today are devoid of showing respect for the other person. In all things, we were taught, a telephone conversation is not a substitute for a face to face communication or meeting. The telephone was a convenience - not a replacement for rapport building and nuanced words with affirming “facial expressions” that can convey at times, more than words.
Letter writing was an art. Hand written letters were highly appropriate between friends, and in many instances, letters were kept in a scrapbook or a special case. These letters contained complete thoughts and, oftentimes, endearing phrases which encouraged the recipient.
Typed letters, on the other hand, were generally confined to business interactions, and while there was the allowance for a “carbon copy” (cc) the recipient always knew who would be seeing the letter. If the recipient wished to share the letter with others, then good manners dictated that the recipient asked the author for permission.
Articles in magazines and books, unless they were fiction, were well written and highly documented with footnotes and a bibliography. They were not a collection of unsubstantiated opinions. The purpose of such devices, such as a “Forward,” in the book was to indicate that someone who was well respected had read and endorsed the book or article. If something simply were in print, without any of those elements, then they often had little or no credibility, and they certainly could not be used or quoted in a serious work being done by students.
The distinction between men and women was designed to show respect. Women were to be called “ladies” and men were to be called “gentlemen.” No one was called “you guys.”
With the introduction first of email, then social media, and then texting, many of the practical boundaries that were set suddenly were removed. Emails were sent with the expectation of a rapid response, people were encouraged to post their opinions and instant messages were sent with the expectation of an instant response. All of these are now sent at any hour of the day, seven days a week with an emphasis placed on the convenience of the sender rather than the convenience of the recipient. Unfortunately, with the new expectations came the tacit understanding that if you fail to respond to my email, post, or text within the time I expect, you must be upset with me or you may be ignoring me. There are even people today who become somewhat depressed when they have been “unfriended” on a Facebook page!!
Sadly, the culture seems to be winning in terms of removing all boundaries of communication protocols and the social grace that should accompany wholesome communication. Moreover, those who impulsively feel a need to express a feeling or a thought can do so without a moment of restraint. In many ways the new “no boundaries” communication prevents disciplined thinking from occurring, whereby people formerly had to organize their thoughts in a cohesive fashion. Today it is often a “stream of consciousness.”
This new form of communication is often reflected in the new and emerging nondenominational churches. People enter the “vestibule,” get their Starbucks coffee, pick up their bottled water and without discovering a Liturgical focal point, sit in the auditorium. The people are greeted with “Good morning,” words are flashed up on screens with power point presentations and the action is directed towards the people in the seats. No Creeds, no Councils, no history, no boundaries. Wear baseball caps throughout if you wish.
Historical, Liturgical Christianity now appears to be irrelevant to some people because the culture has judged it to be so. For Traditional Christians, we enter a Narthex quietly, renewing our baptismal vows as we dip our fingers into Baptismal water and make the sign of the Cross reminding us who we are to meet. We enter the Nave with hat in hand, genuflect before the King of Kings in His Sacramental presence, kneel at our pews in silence as we communicate with Jesus, and then wait with anticipation. We stand as the Sanctuary Party (Clergy and Servers) enters, we exchange ancient greetings with the priest, and we sit and listen carefully to be instructed (Epistle.) We stand out of reverence to hear the Words that Jesus Spoke (Gospel) and we reflect on the words that God has given to the Preacher to explain the mysteries of our 2,000+ year Faith, handed down from Jesus to the Apostles to us. We recite in the Creed what the Church has always believed and taught - unstained by the world. We pray for ourselves and for each other. We take responsibility for our sins, and we offer to God that which is His by right. In conformity with the Church described in the Acts of the Apostles we graciously exchange greetings that eventually lead us back to the Last Supper where we are nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus.
In every element of the Liturgical event the emphasis is on God. The emphasis is placed on what God has done for us. Everything is directed towards God, and in what He has given us through Word and Sacrament, we have no need to be entertained. In the end we thank God for these gifts and we are sent out into the world to share what we have received. Before leaving, however, we once again kneel in silence preparing to re-enter a noisy world. No parishioner satisfaction cards are filled out so that Sunday morning can better suit the Christian consumer by receiving their input. We are not so concerned about how we feel as we are about how God feels about us.
This is all very counter cultural today, but at one time it was an essential component in terms of manners, respect, social grace and politeness. We showed absolute reverence in the presence of God in His House, great respect for those around us, and more concern about the feelings of others than our own feelings. We were not called to be critics - we were called to be worshippers.
Is it possible that the more we have succumbed to the seduction of instantaneous expectations in communication, abruptness in manner, and removing all socially graceful boundaries, that we have lost God in the process? Are we not grateful that our expectations and demands of others in terms of communication are not God’s expectations and demands of us? That we respond to His call immediately, that we react immediately to His expectations, and that we check in often to see if we have missed His call; or even worse - that we looked at our caller ID, saw that God was calling and we refused to answer.
Gracious communication - is it a lost art - or simply a reflection of a people more interested in themselves than in the One who created them to communicate with Him?