Archive for the ‘Sacramental Theology’ Category

I haven’t said a whole lot on this blog yet about the new church I’ve been attending the past few months.  But with the official launch now a little more than a week in the past, it’s time to share.

It’s a great place – the best of high Anglican tradition mixed with broad Evangelical theology, and a major emphasis on the arts… from music to drama to graphic arts… ways through which the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is expressed.

Check out the Church of the Incarnation in this review written by a charter member now living in England.


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Sharing a moment of serendipity.

I was Googling “ember days” to find out when this year’s Ember Days are and tripped over this site.  It’s entitled “Faith and Family: Resources for the Liturgy of Life” and it is jam-packed full of creative ideas for making the liturgical year come alive in everyday life and with kids of all ages.  Even non-Roman-Catholics can find lots of worthwhile suggestions for reading and activities to bring the reality of God’s presence into daily living.

It’s worth a visit just to spend a calming and peaceful moment with the background music.


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Congratulations and blessings to classmate Abraham Nhial and to all God’s people in Sudan!   May God work in you powerfully as agents of peace and love.

The announcement of Bishop Abraham’s consecration can be found here.

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Coming to you live from Trinity School for Ministry, 6/18/10, morning session

Mrs. Jenni Bartling – Will The Real Church Planters Please Stand Up?

Goal: Having the right person in the right place at the right time

Common Characteristics of Church Planters

Knockout Factors (first 6) – without these fuggedaboudit

  1. Visioning Capacity – the person generates vision, initiates plans, and builds significant projects from the ground up.  More than just a dreamer,  has a vision of what God wants and goes for it.  Has faith in what God can do.
  2. Intrinsically Motivated – has the ability to be a self-starter. High energy, manages large workloads and significant responsibility, maintains commitments.  Especially important if the person is bi-vocational.
  3. Creating Ownership of Ministry – passing on the baton of ministry so that others can continue the race.  Able to replicate him/herself, values coaching, instills congregational responsibility for the growth and success of ministry.  People feel ownership in the church.  Willing and able to delegate.
  4. Reaching the Unchurched – consistently reaches out to the unchurched, and influences them towards relationship with Jesus Christ.  Intentionally builds relationships with non-Christians.  “Gets” the unchurched.  Strong communication skills with the unchurched; feels comfortable with them.
  5. Spousal Cooperation – collaborating as a husband and wife in marriage and ministry.  God first, family second, congregation third.  Clear expectation about ministry roles.  This is considered the #1 item.
  6. Effectively Builds Relationships – initiates and builds relationships, constructively handles criticism and relational difficulties, has a strong social network, expresses compassion for the needs of others.

These characteristics tend to be innate — people are wired this way. The next seven can be learned or coached.

  1. Committed to church growth, both numerically and spiritually.  Implements church growth principles in an effective manner.
  2. Responsiveness to the community.  Finds the community’s unique pulse and character.  Develops need-based ministries.  Builds the church via community outreach.
  3. Utilizes giftedness of others.  Coaches others to serve in their area of giftedness.  Matching gifts to needs.
  4. Flexibility – Stays on course despite unexpected events and disruptions.  Effective multi-tasker.  Not giving in to the tyranny of the urgent, but responsive to issues.
  5. Building Cohesive People Groups – uses small groups effectively to accomplish ministry objectives; effectively resolves group conflicts; conscious of the morale of the people; promotes assimilation into the body of the church.
  6. Resilience – staying the course in the face of major setbacks, disappointments, and opposition.  Optimistic and tenacious when convinced they are in God’s will.  Relies on support system during times of crisis, setback, and disappointment.  Bounces back quickly from loss or discouragement.  Non-vindictive.
  7. Exercises faith – strong and vital relationship with God and willing to take significant faith risks.  Maintains one’s spiritual vitality.  Is convinced of church planting call.  At first only the church planter is able to see the new church.

Recommended Book: Training for Selective Interviewing – Charles Ridley and Tweed Moore

Acts 29 – 10 Top Qualities

  1. Spiritual Vitality
  2. Strong Marriage and Family Life
  3. Theological Clarity
  4. Missional Lifestyle
  5. Emotional health – if not, seek counseling before starting a new church.  Having a church baby doesn’t solve personal problems any more than having a baby saves a marriage
  6. Entrepreneurial Aptitude
  7. Disciple-making Skills – Lone-ranger mentality does not work here.
  8. Leadership Abilities  – Before God builds a church plant He builds a church planter.
  9. Clarity of Strength of Calling – compelling personal call
  10. Relationship Building

Gather in groups of three, and pray for God to raise up workers for His harvest field.  Pray for yourself or any names He has brought to mind to you.

Question: How many people do you find who have all these characteristics?

Answer: No one scores high in all these categories.  If the score is medium or low, recommendations are made to help build the score.  The report is only an indicator, not the final word.  It can also point in the direction of any alternatives or other roles on a ministry team.

Audience Comment – re: the verse “The harvest is white” – ripe color is actually yellow.  White means it’s about to go bad – must get it within a week or the harvest is lost forever.

So you feel called to plant?

  • Gather a team of intercessors
  • Get involved in missional/outreach ministry opportunities
  • Read about church planting
  • Schedule a discernment interview

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Reporting from the Church Planting Seminar at Trinity – There were two more addresses on the afternoon of 6/17/10, one from the Rev. Canon John MacDonald and one from the Rev. Mike Wurschmidt, pastor of Shepherd’s Heart (an Anglican church plant in the Hill District of Pittsburgh).  My notes from both addresses are posted here.  The notes on John’s address are very sketchy (interruptions – apologies!)

The Rev. Canon John MacDonald: Creating a Reproducible Missional Environment in the Church Plant

To churches that want to grow, John asks: “Where are you praying about planting your daughter church?”  Existing congregations should always be thinking about this, but many don’t.  There are lots of excuses: we don’t have enough resources – it will siphon off our best people – what if the new church outgrows ours?

In the end the mother church is only focused on its own survival.  It loses focus on God and falls into a death spiral.  People have more faith in their own resources than in Jesus.  At this point the door opens to all kinds of fad theologies and fad sociologies.

What about orthodox congregations?  Why are they not growing?  Why do some church plants fail?  Lack of adaptability?   Social changes being ignored?

Our society is no longer overtly Christian.  We cannot continue to make the same assumptions.   Is the US becoming like Europe w/ increased secularization?

According to a recent Barna poll, only 9% of Americans have a Biblical worldview.  For young people this number is only .5%  Young people are shaped by the current culture.  Interest in church is declining among teenagers; their impression of it is not favorable.  They see Christianity as no longer what it used to be and believe today’s church is not what Jesus had in mind.

Even the mega-churches are destined to fail as the baby boomer generation ages and passes away.  The younger generations want to see their money going to helping the poor, not maintain huge infrastructure.  As the senior pastors retire, the large churches are becoming vulnerable.  In addition, churches that teach heterosexual monogamy are seen as out of touch or worse:  prejudiced along the same lines as apartheid.

Most Americans believe there is no absolute truth; faith has become almost like the spirituality-of-the-month.  In popular opinion Christians are known better for what they are against than what they are for.

What happens when society decides church is not important, or is dangerous to one’s psychological health?  Church becomes a duty, a chore, something easy to skip.  It seems anachronistic.

Here are some thoughts:

  • We need to be intentionally missional.  Adaptability and resourcefulness are highly valued in this culture – ‘tinkering’ to put a life together.
  • This generation is very ‘connected’ and global.  This extended church community needs to be able to tap into this.
  • Being able to translate the gospel into different cultures is a good thing but it can also be one of our greatest weaknesses if we become too influenced by the society.  This requires work, study, and using the gifts God has given us.
  • We need to take a missionary approach, aware of regional differences and neighborhood differences.
  • Look for a ‘bridge’ person to help translate between different subcultures.  What are the values of the people you are reaching? What are their beliefs? What is their heritage?  Upon learning that culture, are we prepared to make changes in our ministries?  Be sure to be actually meeting the needs of the people.  Need a strategy to meet the community around us.
  • OTOH it’s possible to go to the other extreme in trying to be too relevant – “trendier than thou”.  There is a wide spectrum of possibilities between the extremes.

Biblical model?  Acts1:8 – “you will receive power when the H.S. has come upon you”.  The task is to find out how He is calling you and where He is calling you.  If possible, begin a missions program at the local church that has local, national, and international aspects.  Build relationships with missionaries.  TEC began to discourage overseas missions – ‘how dare we impose our beliefs on other peoples’ faith systems?’ – and that’s when it began to die.

Church plants need to have a structure that the mature plant will have – like a baby in the womb, it should have all the parts, it just needs to grow before it is viable as an independent life.  This structure includes plans for cross-cultural and overseas missions.  If the gospel is as important as we say, we need to be thinking on a grand scale.

Q. What is the key we can do to foster reproducibility?

A. Having the ‘DNA’ from the start is a large part; also depends on the people God calls to join the church.  Who has God put on your heart to reach?  Don’t be put off by budget constraints.  More dispersion and horizontal networking.  Relationships are no longer boxes on an org chart but are far more fluid.

Q. What model would you recommend?

A. Acts 13 is a picture of a healthy congregation.  After their mission they exhort and animate the church.


The Rev.  Mike Wurschmidt – Building a Transformational Community in the Inner City

Shepherd’s Heart – How we started

  • Planted in the summer of 1993 by a group of Trinity students
  • Walked the streets near the University of Pittsburgh, the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, and South Side
  • Began as a street ministry bringing food to those in need, blankets and clothes, love and friendship; grew into a place of worship, a new life in Jesus.
  • Started small – The first service was seven.
  • Shared the vision over and over with anyone who will listen.
  • Worshiped the Lord – preached the Word – baptized the homeless.

Why the cities? The harvest is plentiful.  The workers are few.  Urban areas are expected to absorb all the world’s population growth over the next four decades.

Who lives in the city? Prostitutes want to be made whole, addicts want to be set free, the homeless want a place to sleep that is safe, combat veterans want to find peace, hope, honor and respect…  The church needs to take back the city streets.  We need to pray while we walk.  “Lord, show us who was weeping last night.”  We need to be loving the lost and the broken, no matter who they are or where they’ve been.

“Where are your people? Where is your land?” – question a church planting pastor asked.  Where is God calling you to go? Have you asked God yet? And with whom?

“The early church thrived in the cities and announced to all who would hear… that the Kingdom of God had come to the city. […] They backed it up by casting out demons, healing the sick, and giving forgiveness of sin… to all who would confess and believe.” – Burt Waggoner

The message of Jesus has not changed.  He is calling His Church to pick up His Cross and follow Him into the cities. The gospel message of Hope is the only hope that can save lives.  The government cannot do what you and I are here for.

If you minister in the city you need to live in the city!  Take the poor and homeless into our homes.  Families are part of the team, and the homeless become part of your family.  “God sets the lonely in families.”

Values at Shepherd’s Heart

  • Highest value – Pursuit of God and giving back to Him in worship
  • Who is your neighbor?
  • Founded on the Word of God – only Jesus Christ can save, not the government
  • Evangelical – Catholic – Charismatic
  • Anglican
  • Spirit-led
  • Jesus is our head and the Holy Spirit is our Counselor
  • Holiness, honesty and generosity (you can’t out-give God)
  • Churches that plant churches
  • Servant leaders operating as a team.  The senior pastor functions as a coach and operates as the visionary
  • Financial support – each leader on the team works a job to support his or her financial needs
  • Use contemporary music to develop an atmosphere in which the poor and homeless will feel at home
  • Collaborative partnerships

Collaborative partners include:

  • 89 churches
  • 7 health-related agencies (hospitals, recovery programs)
  • 10 homeless agencies (shelters, food pantries, soup kitchens)
  • 10 government entities
  • 12 academic institutions (internships, field training, life skills training)
  • 22 veteran service organizations

Questions church planters must answer:

  • Are you willing to worship the Lord?
  • Are you in this for the long haul?
  • When you hurt your team members are you willing to keep trying?
  • When your body comes under assault, can you and will you continue?
  • Are you willing to fail and start over?

Church planting is about taking back a piece of land.  Intercession and prayer must always accompany ministry.  Potential leaders and members have the blessing of their current church leaders.

Do not lay hands too quickly on gifted people.  Make decisions as a team, including spouse and family.  Be careful how much debt you and your family are willing to enter into.

Have everyone on the team sign an MOU – memorandum of understanding.  Be able to articulate the strategy and commitments.

Find a team member and leader who also has knowledge and experience in drug and alcohol recovery programs.

Maintain self care and Sabbath rest – you will get weary and beat up. Stick to a disciplined routine.

To-do Items

  • Have a weekly prayer partner
  • Keep the diocesan leaders informed
  • Give away your very best
  • You do not need a permanent building
  • Tell the stories of the lives changed
  • Money follows ministry – started w/ nothing
  • Do not be afraid to ask family and friends
  • Think outside the Anglican Dio of Pittsburgh and your own tradition
  • Stick to your core values, priorities, and standards
  • Look at ways to connect to other ministry opportunities in the city
  • There are a lot of people who understand how to write grants
  • Do not be afraid to admit failures and mistakes
  • Spend time with your family – your family needs you

About Shepherd’s Heart

13 Pride Street is now their building.  They serve a hot dinner every Sunday night.  The church has a homeless drop-in center, morning prayer, counseling, Bible study.  Offers programs for homeless veterans.  Manages 5 community houses – one has a basement chapel.  Uses a shuttle bus to provide free transportation to the homeless, at no charge, Mon-Fri.  Owns parking lots that are leased to a business for income.

Does your heart ache for the lost when you are in the city?  Love the lost and the broken with the love of Jesus Christ.  Have you asked God yet?  It’s time to ask!!!

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~ Reporting to you live from Trinity School for Ministry ~

The following are my notes from the 1:00PM session with speaker the Rev. Canon Ron McCrary dated 6/17/10.   The topic was  Anglican Riches for a New Day.   Sadly due to work obligations I missed the morning sessions which included an address by Archbishop Robert Duncan.  If I hear any details of his address I’ll pass them along.


What we have to offer dovetails with what the world yearns for.  There is something about the Anglican way that speaks deeply to our culture.  Our worship is more than just four songs and a sermon.

There is convergence between [Archbishop Robert] Duncan’s call to plant 1000 churches and the unique charism & riches we have as Anglicans.  What God has called us to do He has already gifted us to do.  We have riches that are hidden in plain sight – just like Jesus was hidden in plain sight.

Not even prayer can make it the year 1957 again.   We need eyes to see afresh the things that are familiar.

Humanity apart from God is ruined.  We have been rescued from our lostness and are being restored into the image of Christ.  The treasure is that God Himself comes among us to bring a new species of humanity on the earth.  Prayer book and vestments etc are just the riches.

The deepest needs of people in North America, many of which go unspoken, include the need for…

  • Belonging – people are isolated, lonely, and alienated in a culture where nobody knows your name.  Anglicans are incarnational, and we invite people into community.  We see the church in the light of relationship, like marriage, the only two institutions instituted by God.
  • Trust – the need to be able to trust someone or something, to find another person trustworthy, to be safe being vulnerable.  This is difficult if not impossible in a world of deeply wounded people – people wounded by divorce and unfaithfulness and greed and advertising that never delivers what it promises.  Anglicans have riches of historicity – we did not just go into business yesterday.  We are tried and true.  Even our polity has accountability built into it.
  • Stability and order – not to the point of limiting freedom, but to counterbalance the constant change we’re all subjected to.  We live in a very chaotic time; the world we have known is being deconstructed; we see the collapse of civilized order (terrorists); there is more than enough hatred to destroy the known world.  The Book of Common Prayer in itself is full of order and structure:  observe the church calendar and the lectionary.  At its root the Anglican way is an ordered way of life for both individuals and community.
  • Direction – people are lost, disoriented, living at the speed of light rather than the speed of life.  It’s no mistake the most popular TV series in recent history has been LOST.  Anglicans have direction – from the desert fathers to CS Lewis – that slows us down and digs deep.

We are organized around worshiping God (not just worship).  Four songs alone will never be worship.  We seek to be “a community of loving persons with God at its center.”  This is offensive to humanity – ‘I want to be the center’.  Our focus is on word and sacrament, gathered around God as our sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.  It is more important that a sermon blesses God than that it blesses you or me.

We have three great things:

  • A great challenge.  People are yearning for what we have.  But they have no clue what Anglicanism is.  “Anglican – what’s that?”  It’s tough to explain in a nutshell in an emotionally relevant way.  We are aliens in this country.  The Baptists and Methodists churched America.  They have ‘brand recognition’.  Episcopalians are known down at the local bar as “the queer people”, and the word ‘Anglican’ is totally unfamiliar.
  • A second challenge. – Keeping in mind that the riches are not the treasure.  Don’t trade God for ecclesiology and vestments.
  • A great opportunity – To plant Anglicanism in North America.  The last time this opportunity existed was in the 1600s.  This is hugely historic.  You only get to build the foundation once.

Audience comment: this must not be a church of Bishops but of personal faith
Answer: we must learn to be no longer chaplains to the ruling class but must develop a “folk Anglicanism” – it will be a powerhouse.

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The following sermon was preached at Church of the Atonement, Carnegie on 4/18/10.

NRS Acts 9:1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest  2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.  3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  67 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one.

8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.  9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”  11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying,  12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”  13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem;  14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.”  15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel;  16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized,  19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

This past week I was in North Carolina at the New Wineskins missions conference along with about 1,000 other seminarians, clergy, and laypeople from around the world.  It was an uplifting time and a challenging time, a time for renewing friendships, sharing ideas, sharing meals.  One of the topics of concern that was came up in a number of the workshops we attended was the persecution that Christians are facing in various parts around the world today.  One of the things people remarked about is how often this persecution happens at the hands of people who think they are serving God.  They think they will be rewarded in heaven for killing believers and burning churches.  It’s an unreasoning thing.

Our reading in Acts today shows us this is nothing new.  The early church began in persecution, and has known periods of trouble from that time on.  In this particular instance, we see a young Pharisee named Saul who is angry beyond the power of words to express heading off to Damascus to arrest the believers there and throw them in prison.  In Acts it says he was “breathing threats and murder” against the followers of the Way.

So what is it that Saul was so angry?  To find out we need to look back to Acts chapter 7.  Here we see the disciple Stephen giving his testimony in front of the Sanhedrin, the religious rulers in Jerusalem.  Stephen has been arrested and put on trial for his faith, and as his defense argument he lists the prophets in Israel’s history who were persecuted and killed for doing God’s will.  He says that in every generation, God’s messengers have been mistreated and killed for doing what God told them to do.  He winds up his speech by saying this:

Acts 7:51-53 51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.  52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers.  53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

And the Bible says when they heard this the Sanhedrin “gnashed their teeth at him” and threw him out and stoned him to death.  Saul witnessed this and approved of Stephen’s death, and held the coats of the ones who were throwing the stones.  And after this Saul launched an all-out persecution against the church in Jerusalem.  This persecution caused the believers to scatter in all directions, and chapter 8 of Acts tells how the church spread and grew as the early Christians fled Jerusalem.  One of the places they ran to was Damascus, so as our reading opens Saul is on his way there to track them down and drag them back to Jerusalem for trial.

The story of what happens next is a very familiar one to those of us who were raised in the church.  We know that soon Saul will convert and be re-named Paul, and become the apostle to the Gentiles.  He will write a large portion of the New Testament, and he will die as a martyr.  But at this point in his life, he is Saul, an idealistic young man, educated by the best religious teachers in Jerusalem, and by his own admission “blameless” under Jewish law.  He had learned and obeyed the entire Torah all his life.  BUT in his zeal for the Ten Commandments, the first of which says “thou shalt have no other gods before me”, he felt it was his duty to imprison and seek to execute anyone who believed in Jesus.

And on the road to Damascus God steps in.  And He asks Saul a question that goes straight to the heart of his error: “Saul, why do you persecute Me?”  He doesn’t ask “why are you persecuting my people?”  but “why do you persecute Me?”  God loves His people so much that whatever anyone does to any one of us, He says they do it to Him.  That’s a wonderful truth to remember and reflect on.

Meanwhile Saul is stunned by the question.  He doesn’t know what to say, and he asks: “Who are you Lord?”  And God answers, “I am Jesus who you are persecuting.” And in a moment, in a flash, the righteous Pharisee, blameless under the law, becomes a sinner guilty of murder, and he knows it to the depths of his being.

If Jesus had stopped there and said nothing more, he would have left Saul in a hopeless place, condemned by his own deeds.  But He doesn’t do that.  He says, “get up and enter the city and you will be told what you are to do.”  This is the moment of Saul’s conversion, the moment he moves to obey the voice of Jesus.  He still has a lot of praying to do and he still has a lot to learn, but as of this moment he is on the Lord’s side.

St. Luke, the author of Acts, tells us that Saul spent the next three days blind, in darkness, fasting and praying.  We aren’t told anything more.  But I imagine Saul must have been overwhelmed by guilt and sorrow, broken-hearted.  His illusions were shattered – the illusion of being a good Pharisee, of having kept the Law of Moses perfectly.  He knew now that he was the worst kind of criminal, someone who deserved the death penalty.  How can he possibly restore his relationship with God?  He can’t.  But God can do what Saul can’t.  Somewhere in the middle of those dark days, God gave Saul a vision: that someone named Ananias would come and lay hands on him and restore his sight.  And after that Saul would be sent out to preach in Jesus’ name.  What a picture of the amazing depths of God’s mercy, that He would choose and commission a man like Saul!

This is something worth considering. Think about it… what kinds of things have we done wrong in our lives?  Have we ever done anything as bad as what Saul did?  Probably not.  But even if we have, we can look at Saul and know that if God forgives Saul, He will forgive us.  If God wants to have mercy on Saul, then He wants to have mercy on us too.  If God had a purpose for Saul’s life, then He has a purpose for ours too.  This is the good news Jesus came to share.  God loves us, God’s kingdom has come, and all we have to do is turn away from the past and look to His future, trust Him and follow.

Saul didn’t have to think twice about God’s offer.  When Ananias came to lay hands on him, the very first thing he did – before he even got a drink of water – and remember he hadn’t had anything to drink in three days – the first thing he did was to be baptized.  THEN he sat down to eat.  And from that point on Saul was God’s man.

There’s one other person to consider in this story and that’s Ananias.  I think he often gets overlooked.  Ananias was one of the leading Christians in Damascus, well-known in the synagogue for his faith.  He’s not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, but church tradition holds that he became one of the first bishops in the church and was eventually martyred.

When Ananias heard God’s voice, his immediate answer was “here I am Lord”.  (That’s quite a contrast from Saul’s question ‘who are you Lord?’)  When Jesus tells Ananias to go to Straight Street and ask for a man named Saul, Ananias is troubled.  He could be walking into a trap, it could cost him his life, and he expresses his concerns to the Lord.  Jesus answers by explaining that he has chosen Saul “to bring His name before the Gentiles…”.

Jesus doesn’t offer Ananias any guarantees of personal safety.  Only that somehow his ministry to Saul will help bring the good news of Jesus to the nations.  And so Ananias goes and lays hands on Saul.  Saul receives his sight and receives the Holy Spirit.  He is baptized by Ananias who then shares with him God’s purpose that Saul should take the gospel to the Gentiles.

The remarkable thing about Ananias is that he was ready.  He was ready to go at a moments’ notice.  He was ready to follow Jesus no matter where He led, and do whatever Jesus asked him to do.  As Shakespeare once said through the character of Hamlet, “the readiness is all”.  Ananias was ready to risk and to do, and in that one seemingly small action of baptizing Saul all of history was changed.  Imagine for a moment what the world would be like if Paul had never preached in Greece and Rome.  The Emperor Constantine might never have converted, the Roman Catholic church might never have been formed… the actions of one man changed the course of world history.  By the grace of God.

So where do we find ourselves in this story?  At some times in our lives, we might be able to relate to Saul, and at other times we might be able to relate to Ananias.  At some point in our lives like Saul we may find ourselves confronted by God and in need of His mercy and forgiveness.  When those times come, remember the mercy God showed Saul, and don’t be afraid to turn to Him.  God longs to show His people kindness and forgiveness.

And as we live our lives in Christ, doing our best to follow Him from day to day, the readiness of Ananias can be an example to us.  Like him, we are called to be faithful in the small things, because we never really know when something that looks small is going to be big.  Ananias was a living answer to Saul’s prayers.  He was the evidence of God’s compassion in Saul’s life.  He took God’s plan to the next level.  But he didn’t know he was going to be all that when he left his home to walk to Straight Street.  He just knew God had something for him to do, and he was ready and willing to go.

In a few moments we’re going to be coming up to the altar to take communion. And before we do, we will be praying a prayer from the Prayer Book that says: “here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee…” This Offertory prayer is meant to be primarily an offering of ourselves.

So as we come forward today to take communion if you find yourself like Saul being confronted by God and wanting to set things right with Him, as you kneel and hold out your hands to receive the elements, imagine you are lifting the broken places in your life to God, placing them at the foot of the cross.  And then as you receive the bread and wine, receive God’s mercy and forgiveness.

And if you find yourself relating to Ananias, as you kneel at the altar, tell God that you are ready to do whatever He has in mind.  Imagine lifting your life in offering to God.  And as you receive the bread and wine, receive His assurance that you are His child, and that He is working His purpose in you.

And I would ask you to do one more thing.  As God answers these prayers, let either Fr. Paul or me know what God is doing in your life so that we can encourage each other in the faith.

And so let’s prepare our hearts to meet with our merciful and gracious God in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Amen.

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“Remember those who have sacrificed and the price they have paid.”
– Baroness Caroline Cox

In addition to being the Keynote Speaker at the New Wineskins Conference, Baroness Caroline Cox also presented one of the workshops entitled The Persecuted Church: Miracles of Protection and Provision.  The following is a summary of my notes, a very rough sketch of what was presented.


It is estimated that around the globe 250 million Christians live under some form of persecution.  This persecution may take the form of employment discrimination, second-class citizenship, being forbidden to build churches, systematic discrimination, imprisonment, torture, and sometimes martyrdom.

The power systems behind this persecution include Communism/Socialism; fundamentalist Hinduism; political Buddhism; and militant Islam – the fastest-growing and most severe.

In response Baroness Cox reminds us that when one part of the Body suffers, all suffer.  She has formed Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) to aid and advocate for those who are suffering, especially those neglected by international organizations.  The lands in which HART serves or has served include:

Armenia – where 1.5 million people died in ethnic cleansing following the annexation of part of the country by Turkey and another part by Azerbaijan.  For years the practice of the Christian faith was forbidden.  The people now praise God that they are free to pray again.  “There are Calvaries alongside the miracles.”  Pray the current cease-fire holds.

Burma – The government-sponsored SPDC has perpetrated brutal crimes against humanity and attempted ethnic cleansing against the Chin and Karenni peoples producing at least 60,000 refugees.  Livestock and food supplies have been destroyed and the people hide in the jungle or in overcrowded camps in Thailand.  The need seems overwhelming but still the people say “thank God you’ve come — we thought the world had forgotten us.”

North Korea – Everyone is required to worship the Great Leader; Christians of course don’t and are subject to “re-education”, torture in labor camps, or martyrdom.  The choice is often convert to the state religion or die.  Yet two seminaries – one Catholic and one Protestant – remain.  Pray for the seminaries and the remaining churches – these are dangerous days in North Korea.

Sudan – HART went in on airstrips that had been forbidden to outside agencies and therefore witnessed what the government was trying to hide that other outside agencies have not seen.  (The Baroness has been convicted in absentia of entering the country illegally – “I am serving in absentia” she replies.)  Slavery is a major issue in Sudan.  There are raids and massacres of villages, with women and children taken captive.  Yet there are miracles of grace and the Gospel spreads in spite of it all.  The people say: “True nakedness is to be clothed without love.”

Other examples of persecution and martyrdom in India and Indonesia were mentioned as well.

The church in the West is failing because our mission and churchmanship is weak, and divisions in the church have made missions weak.


Postscript: Over the past few weeks in a number of conversations one theme seems to stand out: the great need for unity among believers.  The cries of the suffering around the world simply will not wait for us to settle denominational turf wars or finish arguments over whether communion should be served with wafers and wine or shortbread and grape juice.  Sadly I think often the laity grasps this more quickly and more deeply than many clergy.  Lord inspire our leaders, and raise up more, with a vision of the unity of Your Body. Amen.

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The full text of ++Rowan, Archbishop of Canterbury’s, reflections on the recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church can be found here.

I think Rowan makes a number of good points.  Here’s what I get out of his message:

  • He believes that the Episcopal Church does not want to cut ties with the wider Anglican Communion, and he encourages them to stay.  At the same time he says resolutions passed at the convention will not repair broken bridges with other parts of the communion, and he acknowledges there is still “a significant minority” of bishops within the Episcopal Church who honor the consensus of the wider Anglican Church.
  • He is very clear in condemning prejudice against LGBTs and in defending their civil liberties and human dignity.  However he says the issue to address in the church is whether or not same-sex unions are the same thing as Christian marriage, and he says this is not the way the Church has interpreted scripture for the past 2000 years.  He states: “a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic” without major changes in the church’s beliefs and teachings, and because of this same-sex unions (at least for now) stand essentially on the same ground as any sexual relationships outside of marriage.
  • Ordination is not a question of human rights — it is a question of being able to represent the church and its teachings accurately.  The church cannot be guided by what popular society as a whole believes.
  • By “pressing ahead” with local changes, the Episcopal Church has made itself “unrecognizable” to other local churches around the globe.   He points out that “local pastoral needs” have raised other potentially divisive issues such as laypeople being able to preside at communion.  He writes, “an acceptance of these sorts of innovation in sacramental practice would represent a manifest change in both the teaching and the discipline of the Anglican tradition”.  He continues:  “To accept without challenge the priority of local and pastoral factors in the case either of sexuality or of sacramental practice would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches…”
  • He addresses what he sees as a “federalist” viewpoint – certain groups essentially wanting autonomy within a loose federation of Anglicanism – and says that the Covenant he is proposing is “emphatically not about centralisation but about mutual responsibility”.
  • He acknowledges that “there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality” at least in the foreseeable future: one with “a ‘covenanted’ Anglican global body” and the other “related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations”.  He warns against “apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication” but rather would describe them as “two styles of being Anglican” and he discourages “competitive hostility” between the two.

I very much appreciate Rowan’s words re: opposing prejudice within the Church – a message conservative Christendom needs to not only take to heart but act on.  At the same time he is quite right in pointing out that ordination has nothing to do with rights.  Speaking as one who is contemplating ordination, the closer one comes to it the clearer it becomes that ordination is a calling, and no human being is worthy of it let alone has a right to it.

While I’m disappointed by the weakness of Rowan’s appeals to Scripture, I think his appeals to unity — the unity of believers and the unity the Church — is something that shouldn’t be brushed aside lightly.  Protestants in general and American Protestants in particular tend to take a very individualized, independent approach to faith and church membership.  While I could never be Catholic (or even Anglo-Catholic) there is something to be said for 2000 years of church teaching.  To ignore it or dismiss it out of hand displays an intellectual arrogance that mistakenly believes our generation and our American culture knows better than anyone else, past or present.

The two weaknesses I see in Rowan’s message are that there seems to be no addressing of the questions of church discipline or Scriptural authority… and these are two of the major theological issues of our day, not only in the Anglican Church but throughout the body of believers.  But I’m glad to see that he has the ability to accept and work with a “twofold ecclesial reality” — it gives me hope that the new American Anglican province won’t be left out in the cold but will have some kind of recognition from Canterbury.

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Sounds like a question that would have an easy answer, but it’s more involved than it looks!  There’s a lot of history behind this list.  So sit back, pour yourself a second cup of coffee, and enjoy… (the article, that is, not the sins!)

First it should be mentioned that the Bible itself says nothing about ‘seven deadly sins’ or ‘deadly sins’ in general.  In Scripture all sins, even the smallest, are deadly and the antidote is faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Having said that, what is a “deadly sin” and where did the idea come from?  Sometime back in the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church made a differentiation between “Cardinal Sins” (sins that could cost a person his or her soul) and “Venial Sins” (which weren’t quite as serious).  The idea was that the lesser sins could be taken care of through any of the sacraments but the greater sins required the sacrament of Confession and acts of contrition.  It should be understood that the Catholic Church considers participation in any of the sacraments to include repentance on the worshiper’s part and forgiveness on God’s part; the physical sacraments in and of themselves do not ‘magically’ remove sins.

Even before the Middle Ages different theologians had made various lists of the worst sins.  The earliest recorded “greatest sins” list, written around the third century, contained eight:  gluttony, lust, greed, sorrow, wrath, despair, vainglory, and pride.  Around 590AD the list was narrowed down to seven: extravagance, gluttony, greed, discouragement, wrath, envy, and pride.  In modern times, the current list recognized by the Roman Catholic Church is: pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth/acedia.  In addition a list of the top seven virtues has been created to help identify what one should strive for: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.

The actual meanings of some of these words have changed over time.  “Charity” (for example) has little to do with giving money and would be expressed in modern language as “brotherly love”.  With this in mind, here’s a closer look at the most modern list of the Seven Deadly Sins:

Pride – “Excessive love of one’s own excellence” is the opening definition given in The Catholic Encyclopedia — which continues, “that frame of mind in which a person, through the love of his own worth, aims to withdraw himself from subjection to God.”  Pride is considered by many to be the original sin and the most deadly of the seven, the sin from which all other sins grow.  It includes the desire to be more important, more attractive, or better than others, and often includes an inability to acknowledge the good in others.  Vainglory (in the earliest list) is considered a form of pride, and includes boasting, vanity, presumption, excessive ambition, and narcissism.

Pride has its roots in contempt of God.  Scripture names Pride as the sin for which Lucifer was thrown out of heaven: the desire to compete with or to be equal to God.  ([Lucifer said] “I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:14))  Jesus, by contrast, “in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” (Phil. 2:5-7)

Avarice or Greed – From the Latin avarus, “to crave”, Avarice is often listed as “Greed” in the top-seven list.  The definition of avarice includes the sins one commits in planning to satisfy one’s craving for money.  Greed is related to Envy and Gluttony in that all three are sins of excess.  Greed, however, usually relates directly to wealth, and is the excessive accumulation of  (or desire for) money.  The foundational sin behind all three sins is making things of this earth — temporal things, destined to pass away — more important than God, or making them into things worth living for.  Related to Greed are the sins of bribery, hoarding, and disloyalty.

Envy – Sometimes called Jealousy, Envy is related to Greed but differs in two respects: one, greed is usually associated with material goods, where envy is not necessarily so; and two, in envy, a person resents another person who has something they don’t.  The end result of envy is that a person wishes to take away from another what they themselves wish they had.  Thomas Aquinas defined envy as “sorrow at another’s well-being“.  Envy opposes Love because it fails to rejoice in the good of others.  Growing out of envy are the sins of hatred, idolatry, and gossip.

Wrath – Wrath goes beyond just being ticked off about something.  It is a deep, abiding rage: hatred and anger spinning out of control, hatred of someone or something that has done nothing to deserve one’s wrath.   Wrath is irrational: it can be seen in denial, impatience, a desire for revenge, or a desire to do evil to another.  Wrath is considered to be the root cause of the sins of murder, assault, and in some cases genocide.  Wrath can also be turned inward into self-destructive behaviors such as self-mutilation and suicide.  Wrath is not necessarily a selfish sin, and often works against self-interest; it is at its root a rejection of the good God has created in others and/or in oneself.

Lust – In the original Latin list the word was luxuria, from which we get the word “luxury”.  Luxuria included immoral sexual thoughts and acts, but the original meaning was as much the “the lust of the eyes” as “the lust of the flesh”.  In some lists this sin was called “extravagance“, and I prefer this translation because it gives insight into the nature of the sin: to be excessive in enjoying good things; to mis-use, abuse, or take for granted the gifts one has been given.  In the modern sense, however, lust refers strictly to sexual sin, and is defined as an inordinate craving for carnal pleasure.  The sinful aspect of lust is not in wanting sex but in either the excess of or the inappropriate satisfaction of desire.  Lust is often one of the foundational sins for crimes such as adultery, incest, criminal assault, rape, and abduction.

Gluttony – From the Latin gluttire meaning “to swallow”, gluttony in modern speech deals with eating or drinking too much.  However the original meaning implies something deeper: consuming so much one harms one’s health, or becoming obsessed with consuming, or consuming to the point that it interferes with one’s ability to carry out one’s duties.  Originally Gluttony meant over-indulgence or over-consumption of anything; wastefulness.  Gluttony is also a sin because it takes away from the needs of the poor being met.  The Catholic Encyclopedia defines gluttony as taking more than you need.  Some church teachers expand the definition (and I think rightly so) to include the thoughts a person has about their particular over-indulgences: anticipation, obsession with specific delicacies, spending too much money on exotic food and drink, etc.

Sloth/Acedia – “Acedia” is an ancient Latin/Greek word meaning “neglect” and refers to neglectfulness of one’s self or one’s duties.  Apathy is the nearest translation we have in modern speech — the attitude that “doing the right thing is too much work”.  Acedia might include  listlessness, uneasiness of mind, restlessness, or instability.  Its root is a lack of love, or a lack of passion — of all the seven deadly sins it is the only one that has its roots in emptiness, or an absence of something.  In modern speech, Sloth is often equated with laziness, and this is certainly part of the definition; but in adding acedia the meaning expands to include states of mind that produce frenetic activity without any sense of purpose; directionlessness.  Related to this is the sin of Despair, a deep dissatisfaction or discontent, and Sorrow. Both of these were in the earliest top-seven list.  (Sorrow goes beyond garden-variety mourning; its definition is a despondency often without discernible cause.)  Sloth violates the First Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)  The opposite of Sloth is Charity (Love).

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.


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This afternoon’s schedule:

  • D.H. Williams, Professor of Religion in Patristics & Historical Theology, Baylor University, Waco, TX
  • paper by Tony Clark, Assoc Professor of Ethics, Friends University, Wichita, KS. Presented by Phil Harrold of Trinity School for Ministry.

Quotation from this morning’s session:  “‘Evangelical rationalism’ is a place to defend, a security system, not an experience of God. Rather, faith is a matter of surrender.”

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Currently attending, and writing to you from, the Ancient Wisdom – Anglican Futures Conference at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA.  The conference continues all day today, tomorrow, and Saturday morning June 4-6.

If you’d like to follow along, join the Twitter Group at


This morning’s presenters:

  • Jason Clark, Emergent-U.K. and Vineyard Church pastor, Sutton, England
  • Holly Rankin Zaher, Director of Student Discipleship, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Nashville, TN
  • David Neff, Editor-in-Chief and VP, Christianity Today Media Group, Carol Stream, IL

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Passover Seder Setting

Passover Seder Setting

Like so many traditions in the church, the choice and design of vessels used in worship have very practical beginnings.

The photo above shows a modern setting for the Passover meal, with wine in an engraved silver cup, unleavened bread, and quality linens.   Yet anyone familiar with Christian worship in the liturgical style will automatically begin to draw parallels to the chalice (cup), paten (plate on which the bread rests), and linens used in Communion services.

Where did these traditions begin?  And what might the original utensils have looked like?  No one knows the answers to these questions for certain, but some general facts are known.

The chalice and paten (in the Christian church) have traditionally been made of the same material.  In the 1600s-1700s it was not unusual for them to be made of pewter.  In the Middle Ages (600AD onwards) gold or silver encrusted with enamels and precious stones was not unusual.  In the early church (circa 300s AD and before) the materials used might have been glass, ivory, wood or clay.  St. John Chrysostom (300s-early 400s) wrote that the original chalice used by Jesus was “not silver or gold” but he didn’t record what it was.  According to the Roman Catholic online encyclopedia New Advent, the chalice used by Jesus was most likely to have been nearly stemless, vase-shaped, and two-handled.  (Interesting to note that Europeans of later centuries would call this two-handled design a “loving cup”.)

In the days of the early church, the paten or plate would have originally been quite large, as it would have held all the pieces of bread broken from the main loaf to be passed around the congregation.  (Communion wafers were a later invention.)  Generally speaking it would be made of the same material and design as the chalice.

Both the chalice and the paten were taken from the “Last Supper”, which was the last Passover meal Jesus ate with His disciples.  Therefore the cup and the bread came from the Jewish Passover traditions, and indicates the tableware would have been Palestinian or Hebrew in design.  The Passover being a holiday meal, the dishes used by Jesus and the disciples would have been “the good dishes” so to speak — not everyday tableware but dishes used for special occasions.  More than that, and how many centuries BC Jewish tradition would take us, is not known for certain.



I should mention one other piece of equipment used in many Christian traditions, and that is the thurible or censer.  The thurible is used to burn incense.  Modern ones are nearly always made of metal, usually silver or brass, and are frequently ornately decorated.  Incense was used in the early church to make the church smell good, and before then it was used in Jewish temple worship.  Again, the design of ancient incense-burning instruments is not known, but a modern thurible is shown above.

Anyone with more information on the design and construction of these items, and the artistry that goes into it, please add your thoughts!

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Well, it’s done.  We’re free.

It’s not even breaking news any more.  Here it is five days after the fact and I’m finally sitting down to  write that the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted to depart the North American province of The Episcopal Church (TEC, a/k/a ECUSA) and realign with the Southern Cone (South American province).  It happened… quietly.

There were no surprises at this past Saturday’s Diocesan Convention.  The most frequent comment I heard from those in attendance was how peaceful and respectful the proceedings were.  The final vote was approximately two-thirds of the laity and three-quarters of the clergy in favor of realignment, and it’s expected next month will see the reinstatement of our recently-deposed Robert Duncan as Bishop.

In the days following people have asked “how are you doing?” or “how are you feeling?” and I found it an awkward question to try to answer.  To be sure I appreciated their concern, but I found I had far stronger emotions regarding Bishop Duncan’s deposition two weeks ago.  That action was a clear-cut case of a church hierarchy abusing its powers, abusing a member of its clergy, trying to separate God’s people from their caring shepherd.  This week’s decision… felt more like the death of a friend who had suffered far too long with a terminal illness.  It was expected, it had been coming for a long time, there had been time to plan for the inevitable, and emotions were a combination of sadness and sweet relief that the pain was finally over.

And it was necessary.  Not that I argue with those who chose to stay saying “God will defend his own, no church hierarchy can stop the spread of the gospel”.  I pray God will bless their continued efforts in the mission field of TEC.  But I think faithful Anglicans need a church which will be for them a safe shelter, a place where the laity (and clergy) won’t feel bullied by people they’ve never met in New York, where church members don’t feel the need to be constantly saying to their neighbors “…but our local church isn’t like that.”  People need to know they can trust those in leadership to be committed to the faith as received by the Apostles.

So now that we’re free… now what?  The future stretches out before us with seemingly limitless possibilities.  This is uncharted territory.  But then life in Christ always is.

Unsure of what to say when I sat down to write this post, I Googled the words “now that we’re free”.  As sad and difficult as this process has been, I think the music in this video captures the prevailing attitude as we look forward towards the future.

“Now That We’re Free” by Desmond “Dazz” Meyer.

In the media:

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Thanks to my brother for forwarding the news last night that Alexander Solzhenitsyn has passed from this world to the next.

I pause in my evening routine for a moment of silent reflection and remembrance.

Then I glance at some of the online obituaries and commentaries. It is clear Solzhenitsyn is honored for the writings of his distant past but his more recent observations of nations and their leaders are less than welcome. No wonder… his writings would expose the seamy underbelly of our modern world.

“Patriotism means unqualified and unwavering love for the nation, which implies not uncritical eagerness to serve, not support for unjust claims, but frank assessment of its vices and sins, and penitence for them”

Try that out on the campaign trail.

It makes me wonder what people expect. Solzhenitsyn never did mince words. He never was a go-to guy for warm fuzzies. If you want something more substantial than TV’s talking heads you have to be prepared to have your predispositions and assumptions challenged.

“Even the most rational approach to ethics is defenseless if there isn’t the will to do what is right.”

Our postmodern world is a world in which even the word “right” is considered offensive by many because it assumes there is also a “wrong”. To a world that no longer accepts the concept of truth, Solzhenitsyn wrote that it is the duty of all people “not to participate in lies”.

“It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes… we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions – especially selfish ones.”

Solzhenitsyn knew the things, both good and evil, that live in the human heart, and he captured the essence of the human dilemma:

“…the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

And with such questions he points us to faith. Solzhenitsyn had a deep Christian faith, but it is one that relatively few Americans today would recognize. He was devoutly Orthodox, a faith he turned to and returned to throughout his life. It was a faith that informed his thoughts and his writing, his definitions of the proper use of authority and right and wrong, a holistic faith for the whole of life.

“Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. Any man who has once proclaimed violence as his method is inevitably forced to take the lie as his principle.”

His was an ancient faith with deep roots, roots that could not be destroyed by 70 years of atheistic communism or exile to foreign lands. From the outside his faith looked mystical and almost anachronistic; yet as any intelligent 20-something can tell you, it’s precisely this kind of faith that today’s young people long for.

“Man has set for himself the goal of conquering the world but in the processes loses his soul. That which is called humanism, but what would be more correctly called irreligious anthropocentrism, cannot yield answers to the most essential questions of our life. We have arrived at an intellectual chaos.”1

Solzhenitsyn names the challenges of both east and west and points to the solutions.

“In different places over the years I have had to prove that socialism, which to many western thinkers is a sort of kingdom of justice, was in fact full of coercion, of bureaucratic greed and corruption and avarice, and consistent within itself that socialism cannot be implemented without the aid of coercion. Communist propaganda would sometimes include statements such as “we include almost all the commandments of the Gospel in our ideology”.

“The difference is that the Gospel asks all this to be achieved through love, through self-limitation, but socialism only uses coercion… Untouched by the breath of God, unrestricted by human conscience, both capitalism and socialism are repulsive.”1

May God grant us many more who are willing to stand for the truth in spite of imprisonment and exile, in spite of false rumors and slander and declining popularity, simply because it is one’s duty and because one has been given the ability to do so.

(1 Credit for the last two quotes goes to “An Interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn” by author Joseph Pierce.)

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