Skip to comments.Dean of Episcopal Divinity School on Reconciliation [warning]
Posted on 10/13/2005 5:15:08 PM PDT by sionnsar
From an Email from ENS.
Daybook, from Episcopal News Service
October 13, 2005 People of Purpose
Reconciliation perspectives, workbook offered by seminary dean Charleston calls Anglicans to create fear-free zone in a broken world
By Mary Frances Schjonberg
[Episcopal News Service] The Gospel is, at its essence, a message and promise of reconciliation, Bishop Steven Charleston told a gathering October 4 at St. Pauls Episcopal Church in Chatham, New Jersey.
This is not rocket science, Charleston said. This is Gospel science, bringing people together to love each other.
After General Convention 2003, Charleston, the dean and president of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and former bishop of Alaska, wrote Good News: A Congregational Resource for Reconciliation. The workbook, he said, is part of an active effort to bring Episcopalians together.
This is an appeal to common sense and to the truth of the Gospel, Charleston said, adding that the book is easy to read, easy to use and cheap (see ordering information below).
Reconciliation, Charleston warned, is not the same as resolution. The Gospel accepts the reality of change, conflict and challenge as being ongoing in the life of any faith community, he wrote in the introduction to the workbook.
Reconciliation requires us to hold some things in tension when wed be more comfortable not doing that, Charleston told those gathered in Chatham.
Charleston argued that the Gospels call to reconciliation is especially needed in an ever-more polarized world in which societys fractures and fissures run along religious lines. We are divided in fear from one another, Charleston said
And its not just between Christian and Muslim, he added. If we were to take Muslims out of the equation, I could still give the same talk.
He spoke of the divisions within Christianity that go beyond denominational differences. He drew a contrast between at least two interpretations of the Gospels call. On the one hand, there are people who would take the Gospel to those who have not heard it and would use the Gospel as the basis for working for social justice. These people envision the Gospel as being interpreted and live out differently in different contexts, he said. Others would use the Gospel as a litmus test of personal salvation and as the basis of creating a monolithic society in which everyone must believe the same thing in the same way.
Christians have always argued with each, Charleston said. It began the day the disciples were arguing about whom among them was the greatest. Jesus knew that we mortals would always argue with each other and struggle with his message, Charleston said. Because of these traits, Jesus gave the world two agents of reconciliation: the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist.
Charleston said the Eucharist was Jesus way of showing us how to live in community with each other. Jesus brought together Roman centurions, Jews, Samaritans, tax collectors and women. He made them eat together. Jesus kept teaching them that you cannot escape the circle of love . you cannot judge others out the door, he said.
The way reconciliation occurs is when we stop demonizing each other, he said. And its hard to demonize each other on a full stomach, especially if you are sitting next to them.
Charleston argued that Anglicanisms historic claim of the via media, the middle way, uniquely positions the Anglican Communion to help society move beyond religious divisions at what he called the turning point of history for this century.
While we profess to believe in a God who acts in history, Charleston said, we tend to think all of Gods actions happened in the past. He said he disagrees. The Anglican Communion was not the result of King Henry the Eighths desires or of nation building or colonialism. God created the notion of the Anglican Communion just for this moment, he said.
We were nurtured and shepherded to this time and this place in history for a reason, he said.
Anglicanism can longer be known as simply a polite religion with decent worship and a sense of style.
It is time for us to take center stage because we have a message that is absolutely essential for the world, he said.
Part of the message ought to be that we are not ashamed of the struggles in the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church. Charleston called these struggles our God-given right.
That is our glory, he said.
This is not the moment to hang out heads. This is our moment to shine. This is why we were created, he said.
Anglicans has always believed in the ambiguity of life and in our call to think creatively with God, Charleston said. And now we are in jeopardy of throwing it all away and for what?
Many in the Communion want to impose a conformity which Charleston argues Anglicans have seen from other denominations serves only to demoralize believers.
If Anglicans can reconcile over our differences and live with radical inclusiveness and diversity, we can give the world the hope that is it possible to live in a way that is fear-free, he said.
Anglicans can create a fear-free zone in a broken world and should be proud to proclaim by word and example Jesus promise of Fear not, for low I am with you even to the end of the age, Charleston said.
If we in the Anglican Communion cannot achieve that in this century, who will? he asked.
Remember and be true to the believers and martyrs of the early church, Charleston said, recalling how those who preached the Good News despite the risks of prison and death. And we should whine and we should be embarrassed by what is happening in the Episcopal Church and we should worry that some people are taking their checkbooks and leaving? he asked.
Preserving Anglican unity and using it as an example of living out the Gospel is the hardest job we will ever do. It may kill us, Charleston said. Jesus told his disciples that they would have to lose their lives to follow him, Charleston added.
Charleston does not believe that it is ultimately Gods plan to have the Anglican Communion break apart, but, he said, I frankly dont care if theres only two or three of us left as long as we have stood up and preached reconciliation.
I get it. Reconciliation means conservatives stay, liberals win.
This is the typical liberal solution to the problem conservatives have with liberal apostacy. Liberals celebrate having no standards except being tolerant, and conservatives are to pay up and shut up, while liberals run (ruin) the church. It's the same in every denomination.
The fear of God is the first thing to go.
Kolokotronis and Agrarian, I recall this "fear of God" being a central element of some piece or another by an Orthodox writer who (I think somewhat incorrectly) managed to turn Western "fear" into "hate." What is the Orthodox position with regards to this phrase? (I think I know, but I have to ask...)
I think these two complimentary quotes from two of the Fathers will answer your question:
"...fear is of two kinds: the first is introductory, while the second, which grows out of the first is perfect.
He who is afraid of God's punishment has a slave-like fear of God, and it is this that makes him refrain from evil: 'Out of fear of the Lord men shun evil' (Prov. 16:6. LXX)... through fear of what threatens us we sinners may be led to repent and may seek deliverance from our sins...
The more a man struggles to do good, the more fear grows in him, until it shows him his slightest faults, those which he thought of as nothing while he was still in the darkness of ignorance.
When fear in this way has become perfect, he himself becomes perfect through inward grief: he no longer desires to sin but, fearing the return of the passions, he remains in this pure fear invulnerable. As the psalm puts it, 'The fear of the Lord is pure, and endures for ever' (Ps. 19:9. LXX). The first kind of fear is not pure, for it arises in us because of our sins. But, independent of sin, the person who has been purified continues to feel fear, not because he sins, but because, being human, he is changeable and prone to evil.
In his humility, the further he advances through the acquisition of the virtues, the more he fears. This is natural; for everyone who possesses wealth greatly fears loss, punishment, dishonor, and the consequent fall from his high estate...The sign of the first kind of fear is hatred of sin and anger towards it, like someone wounded by a wild beast. The sign of perfect fear is the love of virtue and the fear of relapsing, since no one is unalterable." St. Peter of Damascus
And this from +Maximos the Confessor, a particularly appropriate saint for hesitant Anglicans to read:
"The first good which actively affects us, namely fear, is reckoned by Scripture as the most remote from God, for it is called 'the beginning of wisdom' (Ps. 111:10, Prov. 1:7; 9:10). Setting out from this towards our ultimate goal, wisdom, we come to understanding, and this enables us to draw close to God Himself, for we have only wisdom lying between us and our union with Him. Yet it is impossible for a man to attain wisdom unless first, through fear and through the remaining intermediary gifts, he frees himself completely from the mist of ignorance and the dust of sin. That is why, in the order established by Scripture, wisdom is placed close to God and fear close to us. In this way we can learn the rule and law of good order."
I just found this snip in the form of a dialogue (a style often used by the Desert Fathers and spiritual fathers in Orthodoxy even to this day) from +Barsanuphius and his disciple +John who were monksin the sixth century at the monastery of Abba Seridus at Gaza in Palestine. It demonstrates how the fear of God works to strengthen us against a sin much in vogue today among Episcopalian and English Anglican clergy. Seems not much has changed in 1500 years except the response of "holy men" to that sin.
"Q: Pray for me, my Father, I am very much disturbed by thoughts of sexual sin, despondency, and fear; and a thought says to me that I should converse with a brother to whom I feel attracted when I see him, lest by my silence I give him occasion for suspicion. I feel likewise that the demons are somehow pressing me, and I fall into fear.
A: Brother! You are not yet instructed in warfare with the enemy, which is why there come to you thoughts of fear, despondency, and sexual sin. Stand against them with a firm heart, for combatants, unless they labor, are not crowned, and warriors, unless they show the King their skill in battles, do not become worthy of honors. Remember what David was like. Do you not also sing: "Test me, O Lord, and try me, kindle my inwards parts and my heart" (Psalms 25:2). And again: "If a regiment arm itself against me, I will hope in Him" (Psalms 26:3). Likewise, concerning fear: "For if I should go in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me" (Psalms 22:4). And concerning despondency: "If the spirit of the powerful one should come upon thee, do not leave thy place" (Ecclesiastes 10:4).
Do you not wish to be skilled? But a man who is not tested by temptations is not skilled. It is battles that make a man skilled. The work of a monk consists of enduring battles and opposing them with manfulness of heart. But since you do not know the cunning traps of the enemy, he brings thoughts of fear and weakens your heart. You must know that God will not allow against you battles and temptations above your strength; the Apostle also teaches this, saying: "Faithful is the Lord, Who will not leave you to be tempted more than you can bear" (I Corinthians 10:13).
Brother! I also in my youth was many times and powerfully tempted by the demon of sexual sin, and I labored against such thoughts, contradicting them and not agreeing with them, but presenting before my own eyes eternal tortures. For five years I acted thus every day, and God relieved me of these thoughts. This warfare is abolished by unceasing prayer with weeping.
And the fact that the demons are pressing you proceeds from their envy; if they could, they would chase you out of your cell also; but God does not allow them to take possession of you, for they do not have authority for this. God could swiftly relive you, but then you would not begin to oppose another passion (when it comes). May the demons not weaken you so as to turn your attention to a brother (to whom you are attracted), or to converse with him; but If you should happen unexpectedly to come together with him, against your desire, restrain your glance with fear and decency and do not listen attentively to his voice. And if this brother, out of ignorance, should himself begin to speak with you or sit next to you, then skillfully avoid him, but not suddenly, rather with decorum. Say to your thought: "Remember the terrible Judgment of God and the shame which will then overtake those who are attracted by these shameful passions." Compel your thought, and you will receive help, by the prayers of the Saints, and God will have mercy on you. Do not be a child in mind, "but a child in malice" (I Corinthians 14:20); in mind, O brother, be perfect. Pay heed to yourself, as to how you will meet God. Amen."
He's right that Jesus preached reconciliation. However, IIRC he preached reconciliation to God first. Our reconciliation with each other is secondary to our reconciliation to God. We are to reconcile to God and God's will and then work with others who have done the same. If someone has not reconciled themselves to God, then are we not supposed to separate them from our community?
I don't think I could improve on K's quotations.
You may be thinking of the "River of Fire" essay by A. Kalomiros.
In it he makes the point (as I recall) that when most people say that they hate God, what they really hate is the idea of a vengeful, angry, punative God (all too prevalent in Western theology over the centuries -- and admittedly all too often a "popular" perversion of real Western theology).
Such a "God" can be feared, and there are those who, in the history of the West (and I think both K and I can say from personal experience that this is not something from the distant past) have used that fear to intimidate or frighten people into "good behavior."
But such a "God" can also be hated because he is feared in the terror-like sense of the word. This is a concept of God that the East takes pains to avoid. It is not that we are without imagery of hell and other frightening things, but it is rather that these things are subordinated to the overarching and deeply penetrating sense of God's love and mercy -- that we will always receive nothing but love from him. It is the state of our hearts that determines how we receive that love.
Even in monastic writings that speak of the terrors of hell and the demons, one doesn't find in Orthodoxy the idea of God dealing out punishments and "justice" and throwing thunderbolts.
"I have the suspicion that men today believe in God more than at any other time in human history. Men know the gospel, the teaching of the Church, and God's creation better than at any other time. They have a profound consciousness of His existence. Their atheism is not a real disbelief. It is rather an aversion toward somebody we know very well but whom we hate with all our heart, exactly as the demons do.
We hate God, that is why we ignore Him, overlooking Him as if we did not see Him, and pretending to be atheists. In reality we consider Him our enemy par excellence. Our negation is our vengeance, our atheism is our revenge.
But why do men hate God? They hate Him not only because their deeds are dark while God is light, but also because they consider Him as a menace, as an imminent and eternal danger, as an adversary in court, as an opponent at law, as a public prosecutor and an eternal persecutor. To them, God is no more the almighty physician who came to save them from illness and death, but rather a cruel judge and a vengeful inquisitor.
You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose.
Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God's vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator.
Do you perceive the devil's slander of our all-loving, all-kind, and absolutely good God? That is why in Greek the devil was given the name of diabolos; the slanderer."
The shock is not that I recognize the text, but that I'm seeing it very differently from before.
On the other hand I'm reading it outside of its larger context which might have predisposed me to read it a different way.
But too, reading it as an isolated text, I recognize what he's saying. And while I want to be fair to my Protestant friends, that fearsomely vengeful God seems to be the God some of them see -- or respond to. I know Kalomiros is talking about atheism, but when I see "cruel judge" I see what drives (or appears to me to drive) these folks.
I have to disagree. I think the larger problem today is not an undue fear of God but rather the perception that "we will always receive nothing but love from him". Scripture tells us of a patient God but one who ultimately runs out of patience from time to time.
Too often I think people believe that sin is ultimately unimportant because we can always count on God's love. The idea of "tolerance" has changed to a de facto acceptance of sin because people have no fear at all of God.
"I have to disagree. I think the larger problem today is not an undue fear of God but rather the perception that "we will always receive nothing but love from him".
That is not a perception of today, my friend, but of the Fathers of the early Church.
"God is good, dispassionate, and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him, and as turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right that the Divinity feel pleasure or displeasure from human conditions.
He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him, but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to demons who torture us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him to change, but that through our actions and our turning to the Divinity, we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God's goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind." St. Anthony
"I say that those who are suffering in hell, are suffering in being scourged by love. ... It is totally false to think that the sinners in hell are deprived of God's love. Love is a child of the knowledge of truth, and is unquestionably given commonly to all. But love's power acts in two ways: it torments sinners, while at the same time it delights those who have lived in accord with it. +Isaac the Syrian
"The evils in hell do not have God as their cause, but ourselves." +Basil the Great
We condemn ourselves by shutting ourselves off from God's love. In so doing, we block ourselves from becoming like God, from experiencing theosis, what The Western Church calls salvation. St. Symeon the New Theologian wrote of the Final Judgment:
"In the future life the Christian is not examined if he has renounced the whole world for Christ's love, or if he has distributed his riches to the poor or if he fasted or kept vigil or prayed, or if he wept and lamented for his sins, or if he has done any other good in this life, but he is examined attentively if he has any similitude with Christ, as a son does with his father."
To those who are used to the false "God is nothing but love" ideas of liberal brands of Western theology, my statement "that we will always receive nothing but love from [God]" pushes all those Bp. Spong buttons, and I understand that.
The difference, simply put, is that liberal Protestantism created a false "God" that is a polar opposite of the angry, vengeful, and punishing (and equally false) "God" of the other pole of Western Christianity.
This false God of liberal Western Christianity is a very deterministic God who does not give free will to mankind. He/she will make sure everyone lands in eternal bliss regardless of the choices each person makes.
Orthodox Christianity, following the teachings of the early Church (as pointed out by K in #13), teaches that God pours out his love equally on all, and that each man has the free will to turn his face toward or away from God, and the free will to prepare his soul to encounter the presence of God... or not.
We generally steer away from the idea that God does good to those who love him and inflicts pain and suffering on those who do not. We do not believe that God is the author of pain and suffering, even though the slanderer/diabolos would very much like us to believe otherwise.
No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. -Martin Luther
That is the concept that seems to be all too common today.
Thank you for the quotations, excellent food for thought.
I can think of worse crowds... *\;-)
It has taken a while but I now understand, and it makes sense. Are you perhaps familiar with C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce"? It has been a long time since I have read it, but on reflection this morning I wonder if this was not what he was describing.
But I have noticed both here on FR and even more so on David Virtue's site, that the reaction to the apostasy of ECUSA and its ecclesial fellow travelers is an almost gleeful observation that all those people are going to Hell because God is "pissed off". Its almost a mantra with many that God will punish the heresiarch Griswold and the others and they see that as some sort of justification for their admittedly correct theological positions on any of a number of positions which the neo-pagans of ECUSA have taken.
I have noted that too. David Virtue has been becoming rather more difficult for me to read, particularly his "news analyses."
I ask you this, however, are not those people who look expectantly for the wrath of God to fall on Griswold, Robinson et al no less pagans in their expectations than the heresiarchs are in their apostasy?
I will say they are wrong.
I of course am an outsider looking in on all this so take this whence it comes, but the damage the Evil One has done to Anglicans isn't limited to the "revisionists". This continuing controversy within Anglicanism is rotting the souls of everyone there touched by this. It honestly is time to get very far away from all of this.
You are correct that it is damaging on both sides the aisle; it's long past time this should have come to its end. I see why my province has chosen to stay far away from this.
I would like to get away from it too. But I can't, at least not yet. Arlin started this ping list and suggested the web page in my tagline as a help to those in ECUSA, to show them ways out when it came time for them to leave, and comfort them in their distress. I don't think that job is yet done, and though I've had volunteers for assistance nobody's ready to take on the list.
When I took up the list I posted just news items. It got pretty depressing in very short order, which is why you see other material posted to the list.
" I would like to get away from it too. But I can't, at least not yet. Arlin started this ping list and suggested the web page in my tagline as a help to those in ECUSA, to show them ways out when it came time for them to leave, and comfort them in their distress. I don't think that job is yet done, and though I've had volunteers for assistance nobody's ready to take on the list.
When I took up the list I posted just news items. It got pretty depressing in very short order, which is why you see other material posted to the list."
You are doing important work and you do seem to be able to maintain a certain detachment from all of the troubles which is healthy. Actually, when I said it was time to get very far away, I was speaking in general to Anglicans and not anyone in particular. Many of the non-news articcles you post are indeed spiritually edifying and at this late stage in the collapse of the Anglican Communion as it has previously existed, spiritual edification is what the Faithful need. I say that because after reading these threads for the past 18 months or so, I have come to understand, at least a little bit, how very hard, even gut wrenching leaving ECUSA and other ecclesial groups must be for people who have spent their lives there or found what they thought was a secure home. That spiritual edification will, with God's grace, bring both strength to do what must be done and consolation for the inevitable grief which will accompany that action.
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