Tuesday, October 30, 2012

DJ The Landscaper And Repentance

Fr. Dale Matson

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age  and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." (Hebrews 6:4-6).

I was thinking about a man I helped lead to Christ as I read this passage.  I met him through my construction work. He was a landscaper and contracted with me to do some heavy equipment work for him. Later I contracted with him to build some railroad tie retaining walls on the ends of my recently constructed earth sheltered home. His company’s name was simply DJ’s landscaping. He was a rugged ex Green Beret and a veteran of Viet Nam.
We established a real friendship and I witnessed to him about Jesus Christ. Over weeks and months I was able to get him to take a Catechism course in our Church in East Troy WI. I attended the course with him and was amazed how this hardened and cynical man became almost childlike as he asked questions that poured from his heart.

At the conclusion of the course he was offered the opportunity to join our church that he had attended faithfully during his time of instruction. He declined to join and it was almost as if Satan again entered his heart. His heart seemed harder than even before. Not long after that he was arrested for selling marijuana. His term was increased because he continued to try a sell over the jail phone. The phone was monitored.

There are those that would say that he was never truly saved but I would say that he gained and then lost his salvation. I do however believe that he could be brought to repentance but not by me or other men. I believe God could bring him once again to the point of true repentance and to salvation.

I stated that I helped bring DJ to Christ. It is really God the Holy Spirit that beckons to us and converts our hardened hearts. It may be impossible for me to bring DJ back to Christ, but that doesn't mean that God cannot do it. St. Luke stated, "Jesus replied, 'What is impossible with men is possible with God.' ‘’ (Luke 18:27) A saved person can leave God and return to God. I was led to Christ as an eight year old boy by my Sunday school teacher. I later lost my faith, left the church and lived a life of self-centered and self-destructive sinfulness.

God the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart through the Gospel of John. I met Jesus once again and gave myself to Him as Lord and Savior. I’m sure those around me were mystified by the changes that followed in my life. I say this because I know that DJ is somewhere out there and God the Holy Spirit has been courting him once again.    

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Redemption for Lance Armstrong

Fr. Dale Matson

This is a photograph I took of Lance in the Tour of San Francisco in 2002

“With stunning swiftness, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said Thursday night it will strip Lance Armstrong of his unprecedented seven Tour de France titles after he dropped his fight against drug charges that threatened his legacy as one of the greatest cyclists of all time.” http://seattletimes.com/html/othersports/2018979486_armstrong24.html

“Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him,” the sneaker industry leader said in a statement. “Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner.”

Trek offered a similar reason for cutting ties with Armstrong. “Trek is disappointed by the findings and conclusions in the USADA report regarding Lance Armstrong,” a statement from the bike company reads. “Given the determinations of the report, Trek today is terminating our long term relationship with Lance Armstrong.” http://www.wired.com/business/2012/10/lance-armstrong/

As I sat around the coffee table with my cycling friends last week. I asked them what they thought about Lance Armstrong. Words like “grieved”, “duped”, and “heartsick” expressed the sentiments of our group. It was sadness and disappointment for men who saw Lance (and we called him “Lance”) as a gifted cyclist, a team player, a philanthropist, a cancer survivor and someone with an unsurpassed training ethic. We are all triathletes and were saddened that he would not be participating in Hawaii Ironman. He has been banned from more than just cycling events. We simply did not want the accusations to be true.

When I read his book, “It’s Not About The Bike: My Journey Back To Life” (2000), I was moved by how much suffering he experienced in his fight to survive. In addition to his physical struggles, his ego was diminished by experiences like children passing him while he rode his bike. Lance was a man who experienced the dark night of the soul. He did not inflict this on himself but he was stronger for it and claimed that he could NOT have won the Tour without experiencing the cancer.

There are two things that concerned me when I had finished reading this compelling story. He referred to his father as a “sperm donor” and had rebuffed attempts by his estranged father to meet with him. Perhaps this anger toward his father helped fuel his performances. The second thing that bothered me was his unmerited sense of self-reliance. What about the many prayers of friends and family including his Roman Catholic Wife? He was surrounded by many caring individuals who had little to gain. They were not the sycophants who are deserting him in droves now.

Now we are looking at a downsizing once again. As I look at a photograph of Lance from Outside Magazine (01-05-12), I see a bare chested Lance with a Christian cross on a chain around his neck. http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/athletes/lance-armstrong/Its-Not-About-the-Lab-Rats.html?page=1 If only the proximity of the cross represented his relationship to Christ. Unfortunately it is not a crucifix and the empty cross is more symbolic of a fallen Lance than a risen Christ. It is time for Lance to revisit the purpose of suffering because he is experiencing a crucifixion of sorts too.

I have a behavioral prescription for Lance and it is one suitable for all of us with clay feet. I find it to be a reliable antidote to an ego that insists on being god. Perhaps reading Job and the passion narrative from the Gospels would speak especially to Lance as it has to so many of us. I also believe that Lance would profit from reaching out and reconciling with his estranged father. The anger is not useful any longer. I believe confession is also good for the soul. There is no more reputation to protect and no more inflated ego to be served. Perhaps an apology to all those he has misled and those “teammates” he manipulated.

Finally, I hope that this second dark night has Lance searching with the same determination for a cure for a false self who is impersonating the real Lance Armstrong.

“It’s not about money for me. It’s all about the faith that people have put in me over the years. All of that would be erased. So I don’t need it to say in a contract, you’re fired if you test positive. That’s not as important as losing the support of hundreds of millions of people.”  http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/athletes/lance-armstrong/Its-Not-About-the-Lab-Rats.html?page=12

“That which I feared most has come upon me.” (Job 3:25)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Should The New ACNA Prayer Book Include The Filioque In The Nicene Creed?

Dean Carlos Raines

If we begin with the question forming the title of this article, I suspect the response from most Clergy and nearly all Lay people would say, “What??”  When told what the filioque is, they most likely would then respond, “Who cares??  What's wrong with you??” 

The so-called filioque is simply a Latin combination word that translates into English as “and the Son” and is found at the end of the line in the Nicene-constantinopolitan creed that runs as follows:  “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son. 

It's a simple and very familiar phrase; many of us have said it literally hundreds of times and are familiar with it.  Why change it? The simplest answer is that anything that is wrong should be changed and at the earliest possible date! So why are those three words such an offense that they should be eliminated from the next Prayer Book?

First of all, they are NOT part of the Nicene-constantinopolitan creed, as shocking as that might seem.  Anyone can look it up; you will not find the words of the filioque there.  What you will find are the following words derived from the concluding text from the Third Ecumenical  Council (Ephesus: A.D. 431) that gave final ratification of the Nicene Creed:

WHEN these things had been read, the holy Synod decreed that it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (<greek>eteran</greek>) Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicaea.  But those who shall dare to compose a different faith, or to introduce or offer it to persons desiring to turn to the acknowledgment of the truth, whether from Heathenism or from Judaism, or from any heresy whatsoever, shall be deposed, if they be bishops or clergymen; bishops from the episcopate and clergymen from the clergy; and if they be laymen, they shall be anathematized.     

In other words, the Nicene Creed was formally closed and any addition or subtraction would amount to a “different” Faith and result in a formal Anathema from the Fathers. So how did the filioque get into the creed?

Briefly, it was added in the late Sixth century in Spain as a result of a conflict with Arian Christians who conquered and settled there as barbaric tribes holding to that faith.  Orthodox Nicene believers found that adding the words “and the Son” to the creedal faith helped them to propagandize against the Arians with a simple definition that helped the orthodox dispel their beliefs from the popular mind.  This “circular theory” of the Trinity was developed from Augustine (though he never taught it as such) and the double procession was part of that theory (The Father loves the Son who Loves the Father and that Love is so Divine that it is actually a Person who is the Holy Spirit.)  This usage, thought to be Augustinian, began to spread across the Western Church.  As late as A.D. 800 we have a letter written to the Pope in Rome and asking permission to sing the filioque while singing the Creed in the church of the court of  Charlemagne.  The Pope's answer: it is not done in the Roman mass, so, permission denied.  However, within the next century it was added to the Roman mass with no council's authority.  This, of course, did not escape the notice of the Eastern Church (still a unified part of the undivided One, Holy and Catholic Church at that time!).  The East strenuously objected, pointing out that no church could unilaterally change the Creed of an Ecumenical Council without at least the authority of a new Ecumenical Council (the last one had been in the 8th Century; the 7th Ecumenical council).  Now here is what should deeply concern Anglicans about the filioque:  the Western Roman Church defended its right to change the creed because they claimed the Pope had the authority to do so...a claim that was an utter novelty.  This insistence was one of the main causes of the Great Schism in A.D. 1054 and is a major block in the road to unity to this very day.  The filioque itself is an historical monument erected to the doctrine of Papal universal authority.

  A couple of things might be noted here that give some nuance to this debate.  First, the East has always been open to discussing the filioque with the possibility of accepting it if it is done so in a truly ecumenical council and a definition given that is true to the theology of the original Nicene faith.  The problem is that whenever discussion has been made as to the calling of such a council (including the sad attempts at the Council of Florence in 1438), the Roman church has insisted that only the Pope can call such a council (accepted in the East) and only the Pope can ratify the canons of the council (strenuously opposed by the East for obvious reasons...).  Second, the East has been walking in a kind of admission of brokenness since the Great Schism, never naming any of their councils “Ecumenical” if the Bishops of the West can not be in attendance.  So they claim only 7 Ecumenical Councils; every council since then has been synodical.  Yet the Western Roman Church has continued happily along, writing off the Eastern Church and calling all councils composed solely of Roman Bishops “Ecumenical Councils.”  Which of these parties are closer to the spirit of Anglicanism?

So here is the deep and fundamental question; Why would Anglicans want an addition to the ancient and Ecumenical Nicene Creed based solely on the claimed authority of the Pope to override an Ecumenical Council?  Why would we be on that side of the argument?  We may culturally be closer to the Pope and the Roman Church, but this ecclesiastical debate forces us to the Eastern side of the argument precisely because we too thoroughly reject the monarchical basis of the Roman claims.  Anglicans have from the beginning utterly rejected papal claims at infallibility and of ultimate authority even over Ecumenical Councils. 

In the late 1970's there was an Anglican-Orthodox dialogue that produced a remarkable document listing the impressive areas of agreement between our churches.  Partly as a result of that there were official pronouncements concerning the filioque that have, unfortunately, been lost in the more urgent concerns caused by the churches (such as the Church of Canada and the American Episcopal Church) that have recently and severely torn the net of fellowship withing the greater communion.  Nevertheless, it would be good for us to review what has already been done officially by Anglicans concerning the filioque. 
After the Orthodox-Anglican dialogues of the Mid-Seventies of the last century, two Lambeth Conferences concluded and published decrees that Anglican Churches rewriting prayer books should exclude the filioque. In 1978 the Anglican Communion's Lambeth Conference requested "that all member Churches of the Anglican. In 1978 Communion should consider omitting the filioque from the Nicene Creed, and that the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission through the Anglican Consultative Council should assist them in presenting the theological issues to their appropriate synodical bodies and should be responsible for any necessary consultation with other Churches of the Western tradition." In 1988 the conference "ask(ed) that further thought be given to the filioque clause, recognizing it to be a major point of disagreement (with the Orthodox) ... recommending to the provinces of the Anglican Communion that in future liturgical revisions the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed be printed without the filioque clause." These things are good to be reminded of because as recently as the report on current ACNA-Orthodox dialogue given at the Provincial Council meeting at Ridgecrest, North Carolina in June of 2012, it was recommended to the bishops that the filioque be removed from the new ACNA Prayer Book.  An objection was made that this would, once again, look like an American church was unilaterally forcing upon the Anglican Communion a liturgical revision.  The Archbishop concurred and the discussion basically ended without further comment or action (though perhaps and hopefully committee work continues on this very important question!).  However, the point needs to be made that not one but two Lambeth Conferences have urged the removal of the filioque from new Prayer Book liturgies!  That being the case, and seeing, for example, that the Global South keeps calling the churches in the north to obey Lambeth '98's call to recognize homosexual behavior as sinful, how can the ACNA possibly be found to  be rebellious or presumptive or disruptive by choosing to obey the call of two Lambeth Conferences to make this change? 

      It seems to me that the time is right to do what should have been done 500 years ago.  In this issue we need to stand with our brothers and sisters in the East and stand in our truest tradition to honor the Scriptures as faithfully exegeted by the first four Ecumenical Councils with respect to the procession of the Holy Spirit and return our Nicene Creed to that originally penned by the Fathers and given their blessing.  In the same way, in some small way, we add to the call for our Roman brothers and sisters to seek with us to undo the horrific and first and worst tear in the fabric of our universal communion (the 1054 Great Schism) by admitting the Orthodox rightful objections to what was then a novelty and now has become a scandal and a block to the healing of Christ's body. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Where Disparate Minds Agree

Fr. Dale Matson

It is in this context that the attention of the Anglican Communion has again turned to Canterbury. The bishop’s chair there will soon be vacant, even as Rowan Williams takes full advantage of the months preceding his December retirement. And while speculation as to his successor runs hot, most observers place their bets on current occupants of English sees. That would be a mistake. As the Anglican Communion continues its growth in the non-Western world, I believe its nominal leader must reflect that change: it is time for an African Archbishop of Canterbury. (Episcopal Deacon Jesse Zinc) http://livingchurch.org/look-africa

Leave it to one of those pesky deacons to say publicly what I have said privately. This is not radical thinking since Rowan Williams has stated that the job of Archbishop of Canterbury is too big for one person. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9528915/My-job-is-too-big-for-one-man-says-Archbishop-of-Canterbury.html . This is a call for change.

The church in England was initially headed by an “outsider” Augustine of Canterbury appointed by Pope Gregory the Great. For those of us in the West, who have dominated the world stage and controlled the leadership of the communion, it is time to look to those in Africa who represent the largest segment of Anglicans, to play a much larger role in future of Anglicanism. It is our best hope of remaining a Christian church.

It is not just the demographic weight that argues for this. It is also the evangelical fervor that is so much a part of the Anglican Church in Africa. It is also a place where being a Christian could be a death sentence. It is a place where Islam competes for converts. Africa is a place where the shed blood of Jesus is often mixed with the blood of Christian martyrs. This is the seedbed for leaders who have arisen full of the Holy Spirit, who remain unwilling to parse truth and reconcile with those intractably professing a false gospel and a diminished Christology.

Those who see themselves in the reasonable middle see both the left and right as unreasonable. I am on the “Loony right” for those who place themselves in the middle however, Christianity to the rational mind, is itself unreasonable. Since when has the position of the historic one holy catholic and apostolic church become the realm of the loony right? The Anglican Church needs to present an unapologetic prescription strength remedy to the world. Anything less may yield less criticism from the surrounding culture but anything less is only a feel good placebo. A church that does not boldly present Jesus Christ as Divine, ultimate truth and the only means for salvation is not involved in the Great Commission. If we are not presenting this Gospel, we do not love our brothers either.  We are no longer a Christian Church.

I believe that our brothers and sisters in the Global South have been longsuffering and patient as they watched doctrinal error spread. They have worn out their knees praying for us as another gospel other than the Gospel of Christ Jesus became the gospel of humanism.  They now see a time when many who call themselves moderates or conservatives are only this because they are positionally there. They think they are reconcilers; they are unwitting collaborators. The conservatives have left and we were called schismatic.

In light of this I offer this suggestion. Perhaps the role of the new Archbishop of Canterbury could evolve into a more limited role of running the Church of England and a process could begin that would assign an elected individual to head the World Wide Anglican Communion. Colonialism is dead. Long live the Anglican Communion. It is time to honor our brothers and sisters by seating them at the head table.

Thanks Deacon Jesse.