Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Error Of Human Flourishing As Missiology

Fr. Dale Matson

By mission I mean two things.  First, it is the conscious engagement of churches at local, diocesan, provincial, national and global levels with the challenges and issues that diminish flourishing in the human race. Secondly, mission means taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ across that bridge, so that not only are we seen to be nice people doing nice things (there is a certain amount of British irony about that)  but, with the good wishes, good intentions and helpful hands, there is the love of Christ that constrains us, that drives us forward, and that, when allowed to reign and rule in our individual lives and in the lives of societies and communities, transforms structures and practices and permits human flourishing. (Excerpted from here:  July 2012 +Justin Welby)

Human Flourishing (Eudaimonia) is an ethical term used by Aristotle and others as the highest human good. Reading Dr. Welby’s article was my first exposure to the term. (For a thorough treatment of the concept, I have included the following link.

I have two concerns about human flourishing as I understand +Welby’s use of the term. First, I do not believe human flourishing is the end to which the mission work of the church should be directed. My second concern is that it embraces an unscriptural concept of human nature that perceives humans as basically good. I will get back to this after mentioning another high profile individual who also advocates this missiology.

The Millennium Development Goals seek to end the deep poverty that limits human flourishing. Achieving them would provide concrete examples of the abundant life Jesus insists is the reason he came among us – ‘I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10).”
+Katharine Jefferts Schori

Is this why God came and dwelled among us? Is that the Gospel that we are to proclaim? I believe the abundant life for Christ is life in Him. That is what He refers to when He states, “ What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) The Kingdom is not about comfort. It is about conformity to God’s will. Sanctification is not self-actualization, it is self-denial.

Human flourishing is not the end toward which the Gospel is directed. Human flourishing may be a byproduct but it is human focused and not God focused. By proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, we are God’s messengers who help quicken to life those who are spiritually dead. “When you were dead in your sins and in the Uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” (Colossians 2:13) We are not ashamed of Christ and we proclaim Him as the only way and the only name whereby we are saved. We are not “Jesus followers”. We exist in Him and with Him and by Him.

Human flourishing embraces a false concept of the basic nature of humans. We are not all born basically good. This is humanist doctrine and popular amongst many social scientists like the late Abraham Maslow who believe humans are unfairly exploited by systems that dehumanize them and restrict their access to the abundant life. All we have to do is provide the basics of a quality life and they will choose what is right. The problem is that humans are born broken, contaminated with original sin and their natural direction is self-centered and self-destructive. Our behavior may be influenced by but is not contingent on our environment. Anchorite saints like Julian of Norwich lived an abundant life.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is our missiology. The Word of God is our means. The building of the Kingdom begins with the Cross not human flourishing.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Church of England: Lessons for ACNA

Fr. Dale Matson

“For those pushing for women bishops in the Church of England, there is after all only one real theological argument. And it is that the office of priest and the office of bishop are fundamentally united, and that there should not be a class of people ordained to be priests who cannot be bishops:” Post on Stand Firm blog

I agree with this and believe it is the crux of the issue. Women priests are already a break from tradition and scripture. Once this is allowed, the measure is no longer scripture and tradition but consistency. The cloth begins to unravel.

“Archbishop Duncan has appointed the Rt. Rev. David Hicks, Bishop of the REC Diocese of the Northeast & Mid-Atlantic to lead a Theological Task Force on Holy Orders. The Task Force will lead the College of Bishops through a thorough study regarding the ordination of women to Holy Orders.”

How the issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood is resolved in the ACNA may be their most important decision theologically. It is not a second order issue. A theologically sound decision must be made. One issue is an existing provision in the constitution and canons of the church.
  1. “The Province shall make no canon abridging the authority of any member dioceses, clusters or networks (whether regional or affinity-based) and those dioceses banded together as jurisdictions with respect to its practice regarding the ordination of women to the diaconate or presbyterate (Constitution, Article VIII)
Does this mean that even if the ACNA decides as a church that women should not be ordained as priests, that the bishop in a diocese may still ordain them to serve in that diocese?

A great deal of ink has been devoted to the issue of reconciliation. What this really has come to mean is the reluctant acquiescence of one group to the incessant demands of another group. To what extent has the Anglican Church sought the counsel of the other two main Christian denominations; the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches? Even dialogue with our brothers and sisters in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) has them concerned about our foggy policies on the ordination of women in the ACNA.

What does it mean to be a part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church? I am simply weary from the empty arguments of relevance, context, and justice as inclusion. It finally comes down to God’s Gospel or a humanist gospel that claims inclusivity but has demonstrated only exclusivity.  The majority of those who voted in the CoE, voted in favor of women bishops in the Church of England. Did this mean that God’s will was thwarted? What about the majority of Christians in the world today? They accept only male priests and bishops. What about the tradition of the church universal?

The issue of women’s ordination will be researched by the ACNA task force, headed by +David Hicks. One comment that caught my eye: “...the first major conversation will be a study of hermeneutical issues, specifically looking at how the Church’s tradition and culture influence interpretation of Biblical texts.” I am concerned that there may be a tendency to portray early Christian culture as contextual and androcentric. Another concern is that in the context of our modern culture males are diminished by both male and female feminists with gynocentric perspectives.

One question the task force must address is whether their conclusion will lead to greater unity in the Christian church or it will be just one more, lengthy, politically correct, agenda driven document. I believe the ACNA has the opportunity to shape the future of World Wide Anglicanism through their decisions and ecumenical perspective.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

+Justin Welby: Reconciliation or Irreconcilable Differences

Fr. Dale Matson
* Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)

+Justin Welby has been selected as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. I am relieved that I will soon no longer be praying for ++Rowan Williams as ABC. It has been a long ten years.  I have some concerns regarding some of +Justin Welby’s statements. His central focus in his ministry is reconciliation. Reconciliation is one of the main goals of the church of Christ but like many words today, reconciliation has a contemporary meaning. The contemporary intent is not the reconciliation of sinners with God. The intent now is to resume a conversation between liberal and conservatives within the Anglican Communion. Conservatives are weary from years of listening to liberals that press forward a false gospel of inclusion as justice at the expense of leaving behind the transforming love of Jesus Christ that requires repentance and adherence to Scriptural and historical norms. This amendment of life is the response to God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ.

++Rowan Williams triggered suspicion early on with his professed willingness to respect the mind of the communion while openly disagreeing with it on GLBT inclusiveness. We are at a point in some provinces now where the mantra of “All the sacraments for all the baptized” has become a reality under the approving eye of ++Rowan Williams. +Justin Welby has already signaled a willingness to “listen” to the concerns of the GLBT community. Reconciliation for liberals really means willingness to compromise Scriptural standards. A willingness to listen really means collaboration and being co-opted.

As head of the Anglican Communion, +Welby should be considering true reconciliation. He could be considering reconciliation with the historical, holy catholic and apostolic church. He has already stated his advocacy for women bishops in the Church of England. His myopic view was shared by his predecessor ++Rowan Williams and my concern is that we are looking at ++Rowan Williams phase two.

While there is meager background evidence available on +Welby because of his brief tenure as a bishop, what is available in interviews and speeches indicates his liberal leanings. There are those who will condemn the public expression of my misgivings so soon after the selection of +Welby. My response is that after ten years of covert betrayal of conservatives, the burden of proof is on Canterbury. Will Canterbury reflect the established and enduring truth of Scripture, Tradition, the vast majority of the membership of the Anglican Communion and the church universal?

I am not the only one watching. While +Welby was congratulated by some conservative primates, he was also put on notice that they were holding him accountable to the enduring standards of Scripture and the teaching of the Apostles. It is past time for the ABC to be primarily the head of the Church of England and secondarily the head of the Anglican Communion.

 * Epistle lesson for Feast day of the Consecration of Samuel Seabury first American bishop.   

Friday, November 9, 2012

Christians With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Fr. Dale Matson

“The components of OCD may be divided into two main categories: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessive thoughts produce a compulsive response in the form of frequently performed actions or rituals. People with OCD perform rituals, such as repeatedly washing their hands, as a way of suppressing or responding to these obsessive thoughts. Unfortunately, the obsessive thought -- in this case, that one's hands are dirty -- is nearly impossible to get rid of, despite being not being grounded in reality. Some rituals involve physical action while others only occur in the mind, such as counting stairs or the number of words a person says.”

There are various explanations for the origins of OCD including, genetic, cognitive, behavioral and biological. Treatments are generally a mixture based on the underlying assumptions of the causes. What can the Christian perspective offer to those who suffer from the debilitating condition of OCD? Let’s take the worst case scenario as a possibility. Some may worry that they may have inadvertently and unknowingly harmed someone. What if you had made a mistake? There was no malice intended. God is quick to forgive our mistakes. Why not treat this possibility as an opportunity for a blanket confession to God. “Dear Lord, please forgive me for the things I have done and the things I left undone. Forgive me of my known mistakes and those I don’t know about. God will quickly forgive you for the sake of His son Jesus Christ who has paid the price for all of the sins/mistakes that you have or ever will commit.

This confession is a healthy replacement behavior that substitutes for the ineffective repetitive rituals (compulsions). The belief that we must be perfect makes Christ’s death on the cross for our sake, ineffectual in our lives. Satan wants us to believe that we must be perfect because he knows that we can’t. Christ was perfect so you don’t have to be perfect too. As Christians, we are clothed in His riotousness.   Confession is an admission that we are not perfect and interrupts the closed loop vicious cycle of obsessive thoughts followed by compulsive rituals. These rituals are unconsciously intended to pay the price (penance) or undo the guilt and anxiety of the obsessive thoughts. Confession leads to forgiveness and forgiveness absolves us of guilt.  Do not overrule God by NOT allowing yourself to be forgiven because you believe you are unworthy. Christ makes us worthy. This is where trust is so important. I once offered to pray for a hospitalized individual for healing. She declined the offer because she felt that she didn’t deserve healing.

Sometimes I cringe when I remember a past misdeed yet it may be a sin or mistake that I have already asked to be forgiven for. I even know in my heart that I have received forgiveness. Who do you think is reminding me? It is not God because He has forgiven and forgotten my sin (Hebrews 8:12). Satan is called “the accuser” and the Holy Spirit is called “the Comforter”. Satan would love to keep us in bondage. Christ said, “The truth will make you free.” “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly” The answer is obvious. Take charge of these thoughts and in the name of Jesus, command them to depart. Also think about this every time you receive Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:20).

For those struggling with OCD, know that Christ wants us to live a life free from anxiety and guilt. His death, resurrection and Lordship in our lives provides the avenue of deliverance from this problem from which we cannot extricate ourselves on our own. May you find yourself in Christ.