This is the way. Walk in it.

Ecclesiology religion

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Oh, rebellious children, says the LORD, who carry out a plan, but not mine…
For they are a rebellious people, faithless children, children who will not hear the instruction of the LORD;
who say to the seers, “Do not see”; and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions,
leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”…
Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Then you will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images. You will scatter them like filthy rags; you will say to them, “Away with you!”

(Isaiah 30)

For all the love I have of the Anglican tradition (which I describe as an ancient, evangelical and catholic tradition), it does have those pockets of soft, new-age intellectual goo that remind me there’s work to do.

As I head down the path to possible ordination, one of the things I have been encouraged to do – and which I have done – is to meet regularly with a spiritual director. That’s a foreign concept to many. Think of a Jedi-Padawan relationship if you like. It’s an old practice of meeting regularly with a person of much experience as they help you to connect with God and to develop practices for staying good at it. It has a strong history in the older mainstream churches, especially Catholic and Anglican (I know little of the orthodox so can’t comment about them). The man I am meeting with is Catholic (a Marist priest). With my interest in the concept now piqued, I decided to get a short book on the subject from an Anglican perspective, and as I am reading through it, some of the opening comments intended to set the tone for the book have highlighted for me some of my tendencies – tendencies I think I have always had – that I regard as very Catholic in nature, and tendencies that turn me off from some of what I will inevitably encounter in my new church world.

Let me sum up the difference between two ways of thinking about spiritual direction. The first is a way that you will encounter in Anglican Christianity – and in many modern Catholic parishes too. It does not represent a traditional Anglican way of doing things, but you’ll certainly find it today: “Alright, here is a book of some advice e on spiritual direction, but first and foremost, let me say (if I may) that there are many ways of going about this, and please please please don’t hear me as saying that the way I will suggest is right. I wouldn’t want that. Gosh, there is a fabulous colourful array of equally OK ways of going about this, and a pick n mix of traditions to celebrate. Here’s a flower.”

Now, here’s another way of approaching this. When I look at this way, I recognise my own way of thinking. This is the way of people like Ignatius of Loyola approached spiritual discipline, and I’ll sum it up like this: “I’m going to tell you how to do this. It’s important, so listen carefully.”

You don’t reinvent the church for a new generation.

On reflection, this isn’t just a different attitude I have to spiritual direction / discipline. It’s my attitude to doing the whole church thing. Although examples like the one above are features of some pockets of modern Anglicanism that irk me somewhat, on the whole the Anglican view of the church is one of the things about this traditional that draws me to it. You don’t reinvent the church for a new generation, as some people might say of their own approach to the church. The church is a big, old thing that you don’t own and God does, and you join it and follow ways that you didn’t create and which might not suit you, and you become conformed to expectations that are external to you and you might not have chosen if it were up to you. You are changed by your union with the church. As regular readers know, there is much in the content of Catholic belief that I can never accept, but I have been talking here about a Catholic attitude to making your own faith as opposed to belonging to one.

Contrary to what some trendy airheads say, this is not “a relationship, not a religion.”

Contrary to what some trendy airheads say, this is not “a relationship, not a religion.” It’s a religion (which doesn’t mean that it’s not a relationship). There is a point to the earliest Christian Creed, “Jesus is Lord.” He’s not simply your travelling companion, your friend, or somebody to help you find your own way. He is the way. Christianity isn’t a “pick a path” book (remember those?). This is an arrangement where God says “this is the way. Walk in it.”

Glenn Peoples

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{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Chris March 9, 2015, 8:29 pm

    Why would you want to get “spiritual direction” from a Catholic? Catholics by biblical definition aren’t christian ie works based salvation etc etc so what can he possibly offer you?

  • Nathan March 10, 2015, 2:12 am

    One could say the first view simply acknowledges that while many hold the second view, not all who hold the second view hold the same view (and let’s not argue about it right now).

    It tickles me tremendously that you say “It does not represent a traditional Anglican way of doing things”, rather than “It does not represent the traditional Anglican way of doing things”.

    😀

  • Glenn March 10, 2015, 6:58 pm

    Chris, as I hope we can all appreciate, if you want to know what a denomination teaches, you don’t ask those who attack them – you ask an authority within that denomination.

    I wonder if you could – politely – approach the Catholic Bishop in your diocese and ask them in as nice a way as possible (so that you are more likely to get a response) if they believe that their salvation is just a matter of doing good works.

    If you don’t want to do that, then no further comment is required (but you would have to stop making this claim in future in order to keep your integrity intact). If you decide to test all things and you do ask this question, please report back with what you hear (OK you don’t really have to as this is just for your benefit, but I’d like you to report back – but only if you do this). Thanks!

  • Glenn March 10, 2015, 6:59 pm

    Nathan – lol! But I suspect we do that a lot – or at least I do. I’ll say “I take a libertarian view on that,” even if there’s only one libertarian view on an issue.

  • Chrid March 13, 2015, 1:29 am

    I have read the Roman Catholic Catechism and studied Roman Catholicism (from their own sources not just those who rebut them) extensively over 20 odd years Glenn-so do I have to go ask a local bishop to get the facts of their beliefs and practises? Nope I don’t-the teaching of the RCC is widely available- and it doesn’t square with the bible. My integrity is fully intact thanks very much-yours somewhat less so given the nature of your silly comments. Perhaps your “conversion” and clear fascination to the dying, compromising and unbiblical Anglican religion has clouded your judgement as to whats biblical and whats not…

  • Glenn March 14, 2015, 4:33 pm

    Hi Chris. OK, so you chose not to do this. Up to you I guess. Every reasonable critic of a church is willing to check with them to see if they really believe what you say they do. It’s your choice to not do this – but you’re no longer entitled to repeat that claim here. (I’ll enforce that.) Let’s get this thread back on topic.

  • James Nolen March 16, 2015, 5:17 pm

    In the Orthodox Church, everyone is encouraged to have a “Spiritual Father.” It is often the priest you confess to, also called a “Father-confessor.” A lot of it has to do with the Orthodox idea of medicinal salvation. Instead of confessors being gatekeepers of grace, as the Catholic Church tends to see them, the Orthodox see them as spiritual physicians. It’s like “Ok, you’ve ingested this poison, now how do we get it out of your system, and how do we heal the damage that has been done?” You can probably see how a personal spiritual leader would naturally include that role of confession. I have a spiritual father as an Orthodox Catechumen, and it is nice to simply receive reliable instruction and guidance.

    With the idea of Theosis, it naturally follows that it is wise to seek instruction from someone who has had more progression in the spiritual life.

    Much Orthodox monasticism is also based off of spiritual fatherhood. A noticeably Christ-like person attracts a group of people seeking instruction from him.

    You say there are certain Catholic doctrines you cannot accept, can you say the same for the Orthodox Church? I found that the unacceptable aspects of Catholicism were either absent in the Orthodox Church, or different in nature.

  • Glenn March 16, 2015, 5:47 pm

    James, I find it difficult to say anything like that about the Orthodox Church because the way Orthodox theology is formulated is much less clear. It isn’t anywhere near as well defined or explicitly laid out for the purposed of explaining dogma.

    I can’t accept purgatory. I can’t accept the propriety of asking the dead to assist us, even if only by interceding. I can’t accept that Christ is literally, bodily present in the Eucharist and I do not believe in the propitiatory nature of the sacrifice of the Mass. I do not accept (although I guess very little depends on it) that Mary remained a virgin her whole life. I cannot accept the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven.

    I don’t know which of those are a problem, as far as the Orthodox Churches are concerned – except for the propitiatory sacrifice of the Eucharist (the sources I have read say that Eastern orthodox, for example, teaches this.).

    In all honesty, the main problem I have encountered with the orthodox is a more personal one, but that is probably due to the individuals I have met – and unfortunately, most times when I meet someone on;y who is orthodox, they turn out to be like this. I think it has to do with the online medium. But what I have seen suggest to me that the way the church – and other churches – are treated among the Orthodox will always be a problem for me.

    I said just a little about it in “On Dialogue with the Orthodox”.

  • James Nolen March 16, 2015, 6:58 pm

    The Orthodox don’t really accept purgatory, it certainly isn’t a mandatory doctrine. The other things you mention actually fit really well into an Orthodox paradigm more so than the West, but that’s too far off topic.

    I actually remember reading that article when I was struggling with the idea of church and was starting to consider Orthodoxy. Reading it actually postponed further investigation of it for me.

    Concerning different confessions, cutting off communion with every other Christian I had closely known (since I live in the West) was indeed a tough pill to swallow, and further postponed my investigation into Orthodoxy. However, seriously thinking about ecumenism ultimately drove me to it. I was only comfortable in uniting Christianity across space in a way that could also be united across time. The problem of multiple churches and the flexibility of doctrines is actually manifest in this very article. In the past, and in the New Testament Church, the Christian leaders could actually get together and make declarative statements that stuck. Concerning spiritual leadership, it’s nice actually having bishops I can respect and trust in giving me spiritual guidance, which was not the case in the Episcopalian Church.

    By the way, Timothy Ware’s “The Orthodox Church” is a masterpiece of consolidation of history and doctrine.

  • Glenn March 16, 2015, 10:15 pm

    “I was only comfortable in uniting Christianity across space in a way that could also be united across time.”

    Yes, that should be true of all of us – although I know it’s not. Orthodoxy, as I’m sure you know, is not alone there.

  • James Nolen March 17, 2015, 5:10 am

    True, but the problem is that it’s not something a Church can just pick up. For example, the reason I didn’t join the Catholic Church is because, while it’s decent nowadays, if I became Catholic I would have to say that it would be good and right to be Catholic at any point in time. The Catholic Church during the medieval ages held beliefs and practices that no-one has now, and that were not held during the first mellinium. Travelling to a relic to get 5,000 years cancelled off purgatory for example. The Catholic Church was so bad, in fact, that they had a protestant and an internal reformation.

    My point is that while I felt uncomfortable as a protestant with it’s changes across time, joining the Catholic Church doesn’t solve the problem because they’ve also been quite inconsistent across time, and at periods of time I could better sympathize with those who separated from her. But I was happy to discover that the Orthodox Church has quite a consistancy throughout history. For example, they had pilgrimages to relics in the medieval ages, but it is based on a reasonable theology that is still held today. Its the idea that holiness and wholeness is infective, like touching Jesus’s cloak. For the first time I feel like I can go into any point of time in the last 2000 years and there would be a very significant group of Christians that would fully accept me if they fully knew my beliefs, and I would fully accept them.

  • James Nolen March 17, 2015, 6:53 am

    So, Orthodoxy is not alone in its desire to unite the Church across time (I wanted to do that before becoming Orthodox), but it is unparalleled in its ability to to that. You can only go so far with other churches.

  • James Nolen March 17, 2015, 5:55 pm

    Good article by the way.

  • Glenn March 18, 2015, 10:40 pm

    James, I’m tempted to suspect that most people don’t reply to the line of argument about whether or not the Orthodox Churches have accumulated extra doctrines over time just because most other Christians know so little about the orthodox Churches.

    Still, I think that, read charitably, Anglicanism does fairly well in this regard. I’m glad you liked the article, thanks. 🙂

  • Blair March 27, 2015, 7:37 pm

    I can’t accept purgatory.

    The Orthodox Church doesn’t believe in purgatory. There is purgation, a final cleansing of the soul, which is sometimes expressed metaphorically through the idea of “toll houses”, but it is not generally regarded as occurring over a lengthy period of time, or occurring in a physical, hell-like place.

    I can’t accept the propriety of asking the dead to assist us, even if only by interceding.

    We believe the Bible account of Christ’s Transfiguration, where He sought Moses’ counsel on Mt Tabor, so yes, this is an Orthodox doctrine, inasmuch as we see the Saints as not dead but alive in Christ;

    I can’t accept that Christ is literally, bodily present in the Eucharist…

    We accept John 6 and the view of Ignatius, John’s disciple and contemporary, so this is Orthodox dogma;

    …and I do not believe in the propitiatory nature of the sacrifice of the Mass.

    The Liturgy is an offering of Christ: “Thine own of thine own, we offer to Thee, on behalf of all, and for all”, but it is viewed very differently in Orthodoxy – we see the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of the risen Christ, not a reenactment of His death (one reason why we use leavened bread instead of wafers). Christ is risen from the dead, we offer Him to the Father in the form of bread and wine, and in return the Father offers the Gifts back to us. It’s not seen as a propitiation so much as an exchange of love and humility. There’s no sense of appeasement of God through His Son, but instead reconciliation through His Son, by the mystical nature of the offering of the Eucharist.

    I do not accept (although I guess very little depends on it) that Mary remained a virgin her whole life.

    The Orthodox Church accepts the compelling arguments of Jerome defending the narratives of the Early Church in this regard, so it is dogma. It is important in terms of the character and person of the Theotokos and her exalted role in Christ’s salvation of mankind.

    I cannot accept the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven.

    Unlike the Latins, the Orthodox Church believes Mary in fact reposed, which is why we call her feast “The Dormition”, not “The Assumption”. Though we do believe her body was later assumed into heaven. This is not a dogmatic belief, but nor is it fantastic in relative terms – we believe that Enoch and Elijah were assumed into heaven while still alive, so why not the Mother of God? There is also a distinct absence of her relics, unlike other Saints of the Church.

  • Glenn Peoples March 28, 2015, 4:03 pm

    I won’t reproduce comments that I’ve made elsewhere, but here are some thoughts on that list, Blair.

    Jesus didn’t seek Moses’ counsel. Indeed, if anybody would have sought counsel, Moses’ would have sought Jesus’ counsel! As you may know, Jesus said that the appearance of Moses and Elijah was a vision (Greek: horama, same as Peter’s vision of the animals). Moses and Elijah were not physically present, even though the people on the mountain saw them as physically present. It was a divine vision, showing that the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) are fulfilled in Jesus.

    Naturally I believe John 6. For some insight on the way the Fathers spoke about the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, see: “This Is My Body: Using discernment when reading the Church Fathers on the Lord’s Supper”. Ignatius does not commit one way or the other on the literal, physical presence of Christ. I share the view of Tertullian, Theodoret and Augustine. And Calvin. And the Anglicans. 🙂

    Obviously if I’m right to agree with those people on the nature of the Eucharist, then I cannot view the mass as the sacrifice of Christ. Interesting though, that the orthodox do not see the mass as propitiating sin, but rather offering the risen Christ back to the Father. I don’t know why that would be necessary. Is there some reading on that you would recommend?

    As for whether or not a miracle of Mary being assumed into heaven bodily after death is something God is capable of…. well, I don’t agree that this happened to Elijah. I don’t know that the Bible says this about Enoch. But we certainly have no evidence regarding Mary.

  • Blair March 28, 2015, 7:19 pm

    I don’t think it’s credible to argue that the Transfiguration was mere theatre, or that Moses and Elijah, the real actual people of the Old Testament, were not actually present. It was a vision of the divine life. It was Christ, and heaven, as they actually are, revealed in proportion to the ability of the disciples to bear it. Whatever the three discussed, they conversed. Heaven is not an Arcadia walled off from God, but a communion of God and His Saints.

    It’s also not credible to make any claim other than that Ignatius saw the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ. Why? Because he says in his letter to the Smyrnaeans – “the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead.”

    Interesting though, that the orthodox do not see the mass as propitiating sin, but rather offering the risen Christ back to the Father. I don’t know why that would be necessary. Is there some reading on that you would recommend?

    A good article on the Orthodox view of sacrifice: http://preachersinstitute.com/2010/11/21/expiation-not-propitiation/

    A short definition of the nature of sacrifice in the Eucharist:
    http://oca.org/questions/romancatholicism/sacrifice-of-the-mass

    Some more on sacrifice in the Eucharist:
    http://ourorthodoxlife.blogspot.com/2010/12/acts-29-eucharist-part-3-sacrifice.html

    I don’t have any articles that specifically answers your question, but I’ll try to answer it myself. The short answer is that it is an act of synergia – we make Christ’s resurrection personal to ourselves and our fallen nature and sin and we make it our offering for the forgiveness of sins. It’s something we keep doing as long as we seek unity with God, rather than resting on erroneous notions of sola fide and remaining forever extrinsic to Him.

  • Glenn Peoples March 29, 2015, 12:46 am

    With respect though, I don’t think just saying that something isn’t credible is a real argument. Jesus called it a vision, and we know of other visions that, if taken at literal face value, would be absurd. Just saying that it cannot be so doesn’t really alter that. (Nor did I say anything about heaven being “an Arcadia walled off from God”.)

    As for Ignatius, I don’t see it. He called the bread the body of Christ. So do I. But as I said, have a browse through the article I linked to, I don’t want to regurgitate it here.

    Thanks for your answer. So if I understand you, you believe that in the mass you are offering Jesus’ risen body as an offering for sin?

    (Leave out the unnecessary barbs about sola fide, totally unrelated and not helpful)

  • Blair July 3, 2015, 4:09 am

    “Mass” is a Western term. The “leiturgia”, the work of the people (as I understand the translation) is an offering of the risen Christ for the remission of sins. I am not schooled in the finer points of this theology, but Christ is offered, not merely (or even necessarily) as a legal “payment” for prior sins, but, as the God-man who defeated death, the necessary communion (in all senses of the word) with God the Father. He is the Way, and (though not a Biblically specified term) the means. How does one unite with God the Father? Through Christ! Practically how? Through His Body and Blood. What is His Body and Blood? The consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist. To unite, one can leave it as a theoretical, intellectual, spiritual idea, or one can really, truly participate in it as a sacrament. That’s not to say that, having participated, one can merely tick off a box to say one has fulfilled a legal requirement – the seen elements of bread and wine contain in them the unseen body and blood of Christ. It is indeed “sacramental” to participate. Things we cannot see are going on. But it’s not just theatre. It’s not just a symbol of something theoretical. Real things are happening.

    I thought what I said about sola fide was entirely relevant. The Protestant view is one of irresistible grace, that stems from a completed act and makes sacramental life unnecessary. However, if one follows Catholic Christianity, a free will response to God’s grace is required, and required on an ongoing basis. The Divine Liturgy forms the most important part of this response.

  • James Nolen July 5, 2015, 4:34 pm

    Here are some of my thoughts. Bread and water turn into body and blood every day through mundane consumption. At the Divine Liturgy, it becomes the body and blood of Christ before becoming the body and blood of the Body of Christ.

    Christ’s body and blood is united to our own. This is a means by which we are saved. When His flesh and blood, which was resurrected, is united with our own flesh and blood, it enables our bodies to be resurrected as well. When we approach the Eucharist consciously, we are united with Christ in a profound way. It is the means by which we connect with the reality of His incarnation, life, death, and resurrection- all that He accomplished in the flesh. Since Christ worked out our salvation in a physical way, the way we connect to that salvation must have a physical aspect as well.

    If it is a mental excercise, what does it symbolize? What is it supposed to make us think about?

  • Anthony Robin September 3, 2016, 1:57 pm

    Blair, no physical body can exist in the higher spiritual planes (with their laws which cannot be violated) which you call heaven. Every plane (seven of them, each with their respective sub-planes also seven in each plane making a total of 49 levels) from the highest to the lowest, namely: 7) DIVINE GODHEAD (THAT or THE UNKNOWN); 6) THE MONADIC PLANE; 5) THE SPIRITUAL or NIRVANIC PLANE; 4) THE INTUITIONAL or BUDDHIC PLANE; 3) THE MENTAL PLANE (three higher sub-planes which formed the Causal/Higher Mental or Abstract Mind and the three lower sub-planes which formed the Lower Mental or Concrete Mind. The middle sub-plane is the battleground where armageddon is fought in which the individual gives in to his base emotions or transmute/spiritualize them and in the process achieves spiritual control in his life. It doesn’t means that life turns into ‘ days of wine and roses’, it simply means that the individual is no longer bewildered by the storms of life, in other words, KARMA; 2) THE ASTRAL or EMOTIONAL PLANE with its four higher sub-planes which formed the higher aspiration sub-planes and the emotional carnal-desire formed by the lower sub-planes; 1) THE PHYSICAL PLANE WHERE the four higher sub-planes formed the four physical ethers and the three lower ones which formed what physical science called gases, liquids and solids of our planet.

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