February 27, 2017

April 30, 2012

Why North American Anglicans are the Way We Are

In my experience many North American Episcopalians/Anglicans, even from very good orthodox churches, have only a rudimentary concept of what lies between Genesis 1 and Revelation 22 - and, worse, little desire to learn. Here are seven reasons (among many) why we are the way we are:

1. Many life-long Anglicans/Episcopalians have grown up with short devotional/poetic homilies only tangentially related to a biblical text rather than biblical exposition. This has bred a passionless, incurious, passive approach to giving and listening to sermons, engaging in bible study, and reading the bible.

2. Driven by the charismatic renewal movement in the late sixties and the growing severity of doctrinal disputes in the Episcopal Church, many Episcopal leaders began to focus on creating a “spiritual experience” to the exclusion of teaching biblical doctrine and ensuring that people understand what Christians believe and why. This created feeling-focused congregations hungry for mountain-top experiences, too impatient for the long slow work of reading, marking and inwardly digesting the word of God.

3. Many Anglican/Episcopal priests distrust the sufficiency of the word of God for the growth (Mk 4:1-20), health (2 Tim 3:16) and sanctification of the church (Jn 17:17), depending rather exclusively on the liturgy and the sacraments to do the work Jesus assigns to the word. This distrust carries the added benefit of making Sunday morning very easy on the priest. Just go through the liturgy and you’re done. This has created many congregations that consider themselves “eucharistically centered” but in reality have no interest in or desire for God’s self revelation in scripture. The readings and sermon are a prelude to the really important part of worship.

4. Many Anglican/Episcopal leaders and people are “recovering” from very rigid fundamentalist pasts where their heads where packed with lots of scripture but their hearts were left cold. The Anglican/Episcopal church is perceived as a place where these “mature” Christians might go to convalesce. These leaders and people often nurse along a reactionary distaste for exposition, doctrine, and adult Christian education - associating all these things negatively with “fundamentalism”. This has created congregations in which new disciples starve for the lack of milk while those who might nourish and feed them pride themselves on their sophistication and spiritual depth. It is also true that many who believe they learned everything there is to know about scripture while sitting between their parents in a “fundamentalist” church are as ignorant as the converts.

5. In many Episcopal Churches, Sunday school is largely seen as something for children to do while the adults are quaffing coffee and downing powdered donuts in the parish hall. Having gone through Sunday school themselves they imagine that they know all there is to know. This has created a culture in which many Baptized, Confirmed, church-going Anglicans are innoculated against the intellectual demands of continuing in the Apostles’ teaching.

6. Children’s Sunday school (not to mention youth ministry) has been largely reduced to teaching kids to be good and make good life decisions. “Jesus was nice and came to model niceness. Here are some nice things he did. So now let’s all go out and be nice.” This has produced little deists who know some of the more popular bible stories but know nothing of redemption history and see nothing unique about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

7. Many Anglican/Episcopalian priests entered the priesthood because it seemed a good way to “care for people”, entertaining a soft hazy therapeutic vision of their role. This has created a culture in which many priests love their people and many people love their priests but also one in which the prophetic role - preaching repentance, sacrifice, and fidelity to Christ and his word - cannot be embraced without “breaking up the family”. Soft words have created hard hearts. Caring and sharing has left no room for exhortation.

These factors (and others) created an environment ripe for revisionist take-over. By the late 90s Anglicans/Episcopalians had largely lost the ability to measure new ideas biblically. This made it very easy for revisionist sophists to wrest the words “love” and “grace” from their biblical moorings and use them to support non-celibate homosexual ministers and same sex blessings, all the while “sounding” Christian to the untrained ears of many priests behind the pulpit and people in the pews.

Now many Anglicans are moving into a new post-Episcopalian era, rebuilding our congregations after losing property and people to the Anglican wars. But we need to rebuild on much firmer foundations or history will repeat itself. The only way to prevent that from happening is to begin the often painful process of re-catechizing the church from square one.

That will necessarily involve hard work for pastors. In many cases it will mean re-learning the gospel, rediscovering scripture, embracing the hard study exposition demands. It will mean creating adult education programs, teaching bible studies and training bible study leaders, training people to actively listen and engage with scripture as it is preached and rather than waiting to be swept up or entertained from the pulpit. All of this means sacrifice and sweat. 

And it will be divisive work because it will mean demanding a lot from people unused to seeing church as anything more than a comfortable and comforting place to go on a Sunday morning. It will be difficult work because we as leaders have lazily floated along with the tide and have become fearful of making demands on ourselves or the people in our care. Some people will leave because they will not want to go where we lead them. Let them go. Some priests will balk. That’s too bad.  But if we carry the same deathly, vigor-sapping, know-nothing, sacerdotal, “its-all-a-mystery” DNA into the future we can expect desolation and ruin.

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In 2003 I was in this category, but the consecration of Robinson made me read and find out, what did the Bible say about homosexuality.  Was this much to-do about nothing?  I found that homosexuality in the Bible (New and Old Testament) is always bad and the only way to justify blessing same sex unions is to disregard or discredit the Bible.  This lead me to want to learn what else the Bible really said about other issues and helped me get started on becoming a more informed Christian with a closer relation with God. 

Now people are having to take sides.  The Diocese of Texas is a good example.  Parishes will have to vote to endorse blessing same-sex unions, to prohibit it, or do nothing.  (As the rock group Rush says - If you chose not to decide you still have made a choice).  I think this is making the Church smaller, but stronger.  People are having to make a choice whether they are going to believe and follow the Bible, or not.  I think it is a good thing.  It is separating the wheat from the chaff.  Matthew 3:12

[1] Posted by JustOneVoice on 4-30-2012 at 10:29 AM · [top]

Liturgy, used rightly and not as some campy end in itself, can help the people take in the sweep of Scripture.  The church year and lectionary are meant to convey the whole message of Christ each year, with the long, green “common time” for teaching on discipleship.

The Preface to the first Book of Common Prayer is explicit about the role of liturgy:

There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted: as, among other things, it may plainly appear by the common prayers in the Church, commonly called Divine Service: the first original and ground whereof, if a man would search out by the ancient fathers, he shall find, that the same was not ordained, but of a good purpose, and for a great advancement of godliness: For they so ordered the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over once in the year, intending thereby, that the Clergy, and especially such as were Ministers of the congregation, should (by often reading, and meditation of God’s word) be stirred up to godliness themselves, and be more able to exhort others by wholesome doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the truth. And further, that the people (by daily hearing of holy Scripture read in the Church)should continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true religion.

The Bible is large and complex, not only in content but in layout.  The old saw about “I tried reading from the beginning but gave up” is valid.  Not all of the folks in our pews are cut out to read it in full and comprehend it.  This is why God has teachers in the church.

The liturgy can be our great ally in helping people connect OT prophecy to fulfillment in Christ, and to ridding their minds of the lies like “Paul made up something different from Jesus.”  The wise juxtaposition of readings, tied to a calendar that rehearses the words and work of Christ every year, with the offering of the Sacrament that “proclaims his death until he comes,” can help our people know the Bible.

The preacher must connect what’s said and done in liturgy to the Bible.  To get up and preach against the atonement when the Creed says his death was “for us” and all of the Eucharistic Prayers say that the Son makes the perfect offering to the Father is to stick the people with incoherent ritual - truly a bunch of hocus-pocus leading to mediocre coffee and small talk.

I guess I’m offering the same critique offered by others toward TEC’s “Baptismal Covenant” malarkey: baptism, divorced from Biblical exposition of its meaning, is just a silly church membership gimmick, like a secret handshake.

[2] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 4-30-2012 at 10:55 AM · [top]

Hi Timothy,

I’m Anglican so I think we definitely agree about the importance and function of liturgy. But without good biblical teaching/preaching…liturgy can quickly become a heartless meaningless exercise.

[3] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 4-30-2012 at 11:57 AM · [top]

I entered seminary in 1973, after working as a petroleum engineer for some years; my point is that I had some degree of maturity. The next year, we had a guest lecturer in Pastoral Theology who dare to tell us that he had sought ordination for the protection and authority the collar offered during the racial years in the South; now that the cause had pretty well gone off and left him, he really had not much reason for continuing to wear his collar, but he admitted that he didn’t have what it took to give it up. He made the very sad statement that the happiest times of his life were during his 4 weeks of vacation when he didn’t have to even go near a church! I’m sure he is long since retired, but he and others of his ilk laid the groundwork for the current state of TEO.

desert padre

[4] Posted by desertpadre on 4-30-2012 at 11:58 AM · [top]

Bravo, Matt, Bravo!  You have hit the nail squarely and soundly on the head.  I can’t tell you how many people have told me they “don’t need Sunday School.”  And what are they teaching the kids?  Not much, I can promise you that - although they usually do pretty good with the crafts. 

I can’t tell you how many priests use the pulpit to move their personal agenda.  Many use it as an opportunity to give a book report or movie review - and that book is never The Bible and the movie is never “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”  Some even actually give honorable mention to the lesson for the day but it is rarely, if ever, the real topic of the sermon.

Tec has become a social club more interested in the pancake breakfast and next fundraiser than a place where sharing The Gospel is the reason for waking up.

I hate, hate, hate that new Anglican entities have not held the line.  It would be a travesty if they become a monument to what they rejected.

[5] Posted by Jackie on 4-30-2012 at 12:06 PM · [top]

“Soft words have created hard hearts. Caring and sharing has left no room for exhortation.”


Do you mean a hardness of the heart when it comes to honestly talking about those passages that might be considered difficult to communicate without “offending” someone? I guess that would be the “moderate” approach: non judgemental to the point of confusing the congregation.

[6] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 4-30-2012 at 12:12 PM · [top]

And while I am ranting - a few years back - when our diocese was going through the listening process, I was elected to represent our small parish in the “discussion.”  We were broken into small groups.  The groups were not randomly selected and every group had at least one clergy.  I got two in my group along with some of the leaders of the diocese as well as their parishes.

One member was at that time a brand new deacon.  She also was a therapist.  She started the meeting by asking that we “take the Bible” off the table as a reference available for our discussion.  The two priests immediately agreed.  The other members were ready to go along with it when I objected on the basis that the Authority of Scripture was the basis of the entire argument.  One of the members in the group asked why I objected to taking it off the table as he was not aware The Bible even spoke to the subject of GLBT.  I opened it to Romans for him and all the blood drained from his face.  He was SHOCKED that was in the Bible.  Which is when the new deacon said and this is a direct quote, “That’s why I don’t use the Bible in my counseling.  It has such hateful language in it.”

As Christians, we can stand and fight for the Authority of Scripture by studying and teaching it and do so in a loving way or we can allow those who would make the church conform to the world to make us - exactly what they intend = former Christians.

[7] Posted by Jackie on 4-30-2012 at 12:14 PM · [top]

RE: “we had a guest lecturer in Pastoral Theology who dare to tell us that he had sought ordination for the protection and authority the collar offered during the racial years in the South; now that the cause had pretty well gone off and left him, he really had not much reason for continuing to wear his collar, but he admitted that he didn’t have what it took to give it up.”

I agree that this is bad—but that’s a priest who doesn’t believe the Gospel.

But what I hear from Matt is his talking about North American Anglicans—not necessarily those in TEC—and I’m assuming he is talking about people who are already 1) Christian believers, 2) conservative, and 3) Anglican.

Honestly, when I read sermons and teachings from a whole bunch of *conservative Anglican clergy* I’m pretty appalled at the vacuity, shallowness, and general lack of knowledge and rational consistency demonstrated.

I don’t know how the laity can become not “the Way We Are” when the clergy are The Way They Are.

I don’t know the solution either.

[8] Posted by Sarah on 4-30-2012 at 12:22 PM · [top]

hi Sarah,

“But what I hear from Matt is his talking about North American Anglicans—not necessarily those in TEC—and I’m assuming he is talking about people who are already 1) Christian believers, 2) conservative, and 3) Anglican.”

Exactly right.

I am not talking about liberals here, but conservative Anglican Christians

I also agree with this:

“I don’t know how the laity can become not “the Way We Are” when the clergy are The Way They Are.”


I added this line to my text about an hour or so ago:

“The only way to prevent that from happening is to begin the often painful process of re-catechizing the church from square one.

That will necessarily involve hard work for pastors. In many cases it will mean re-learning the gospel, rediscovering scripture, embracing the hard study exposition demands. “

that is where, I think, it has to begin.

[9] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 4-30-2012 at 12:29 PM · [top]


I came from a fundementalist background.  Even though it wasn’t a very extreme or abusive one.  I can understand though what you are saying about folks who come from that background often going too far in the other extreme. 

And I’m not saying you would disagree with this next statement, but I think one can also say that just great preaching without the Table is also lacking.  In fact, my discovery of Anglicanism has convinced me that they are both mutually dependant and that neither one (word or Table) should be neglected for the other. 

This is not false humility on my part, I consider myself a faithful preacher, but a very mediocre one when compared to others, but one thing that struck me (at least in those who were attracted to our church plant- some of them former TEC) was the way they reacted to simple biblical preaching.  They loved it and it was like they had heard so little of it that it was refreshing. 

I will also say that our small parish is very blessed.  In a parish of 30 and growing we have several gifted teachers.  Our adult class is very good and the gentleman who does most of the teaching (I have taken the older children) is a Trinity student- soon to be graduate. 


[10] Posted by pastorgoggans on 4-30-2012 at 01:07 PM · [top]

What Matt has laid out in this article is a significant part of why Trinity School for Ministry has call the Rev. Dr. Joel Scandrett to Trinity as Director of the Robert E. Webber Center.

The mission of the Robert E. Webber Center is: To inspire and equip evangelical church leaders to teach their people to interpret their world according to the biblical story, rooted in the Church’s historic interpretation. Specifically, this work will be accomplished through the development of catechetical materials to resource the Church, and through a series of conferences entitled Ancient Evangelical Futures Conference (AEFC). Additional projects and programs of the Center will be developed in due course.

Through this Center, Trinity hopes to produce catechetical material that can be used by clergy and laity to as the collect says, “read, mark, learn and inward digest” the Christian story.  Pray for Joel and for the faculty of Trinity as we begin this new work.


[11] Posted by Tina Lockett on 4-30-2012 at 01:34 PM · [top]

Matt+ and pastorgoggans, Yep, exactly!  The Bible and our liturgy are essential and complementary parts of our Anglican faith.  Yes both need to be taught not only to clergy but to the laity.  Matt+ is absolutely right in recognizing that is indeed hard work for clergy and laity but it is the beginning point. We are paying the price for decades of slothful to nonexistent Bible study in many parishes as emphasis has been “being nice” and more recently being “relevant”.

[12] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 4-30-2012 at 01:38 PM · [top]

The key would be to integrate the Word, the preaching, the liturgy, the congregational mission and the congregational living as Cranmer intended. Of course if there is vacuous preaching, there is nothing to integrate. Early Christianity grew because of the challenges and not despite them. The pastor and congregation, clergy and laity, need to cooperatively challenge one another to use all of their Spirit-given gifts for the common good. Many come to church seeking comfort and not truth. The effective pastor shows that without truth there is no real comfort.

[13] Posted by Don+ on 4-30-2012 at 01:42 PM · [top]

#11 Tina,WOW ! That is great news about Trinity School for Minstry, their new center,  and the task ahead to create curriculum and materials to teach the church the Christian story.

[14] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 4-30-2012 at 01:45 PM · [top]

I think Matt’s point #7 is closely associated with the issues Leon Podles covers in his book “The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity.”  It’s not just an Episcopal/Anglican problem.  I must say that on a general basis I find the Presbyterians (PCA and EPC), as well as the LCMS, to be the most serious about biblical literacy and apologetics, with the LCMS also placing significant emphasis on liturgy and the sacraments.

[15] Posted by Daniel on 4-30-2012 at 02:12 PM · [top]

1. May I add, Matt+, that many have not been told why it is that we are Anglicans, rather than other kinds of Christians? True, this is secondary…but if you are orthodox in belief, and don’t understand why you should stay in an Anglican Church rather than Pastor Billy Joe’s Super-Orthodox And Truly Reformed Church down the street, why stay?

2. Re your 1st point, I must recommend (not just to preachers—just as valuable to laymen) , Martyn Lloyd Jones’ book Preachers and Preaching simply because he shows in a clear way the difference between sermons giving an exposition of Scripture and sermons that is designed to make a point and to which Scripture texts are attached as ornaments, or worse, sermons that throw out Scripture texts completely irrelevantly. The book is filled with pertinent anecdotes, and thus of great help to bleating sheep.

[16] Posted by Real Toral on 4-30-2012 at 03:31 PM · [top]

In addition to the reasons above, I humbly suggest an eighth reason. In an attempt to make everyone feel good, we have divorced the concept of love (both divine and human) from being a radical commitment and a decision that calls one to self-sacrifice and going beyond one’s self, and have made it solely a feeling that I happen to feel about you right now that does not demand a response.

This means that the Church continues to offer us a “we are all loved, you are loved and affirmed by God” instead of explaining that yes we are loved, but that love calls us to a relationship that demands something of us. Like in a family when you find yourself going to the 24 hour pharmacy at 2am because your child is sick, or you persevere through a spouse’s serious illness because you can’t imagine doing otherwise, a relationship with God requires radical conversion and change in life that may not be either easy or comfortable. It requires us to do stuff, to give up stuff, and to ... well ... convert.  It is radical and hard - much like marriage or any other life-long commitment.

I think that by watering down what love means, we have created folks who can be complacent that “God loves me.” Well yes, but that’s only the first half of the issue. The rubber meets the road in our response - yes we are loved, but we are called to love back in a way that requires effort and conversion on our part. Anyone who has been married knows that it isn’t easy!

[17] Posted by advocate on 4-30-2012 at 03:54 PM · [top]

Thanks for this Matt+. It is well stated. How about we listen to the words of one of our own, Anglican J. I. Packer, from “Truth and Power.”

“Since the triune God — the Father and the Son, through the Spirit — already preaches to us in every part of the Bible, the human preacher’s task resolves into becoming a mouthpiece and sounding board for the diving message that meets him in the text. It is not for the preacher to stand, as it were, in front of and above the Bible, sitting himself between it and the people and speaking for it, as if it could not speak for itself. Rather his role is to stand behind and below it, letting it deliver its own message through him and putting himself explicitly and transparently under the authority of that message, so that his very style of relaying it models a response to it. From this standpoint preaching is, indeed, in Phillips Brooks’s phrase, “truth through personality” and the preacher is, indeed, half of his sermon. Only as he manifests both the mentality of a messenger and the disposition of a disciple will the preacher communicate any sense of God speaking in what he says. Insofar as he fulfills these two roles, his preaching will be genuinely prophetic: he will speak from God in his character as a servant of God. The Holy Spirit who enables him to do this will lead God’s people to recognize God’s authority in what he is saying. The form of authority that is acknowledged in Scripture as authentically moral and spiritual is the authority of God himself speaking, not of his representatives except as they echo and embody his word.”

[18] Posted by Shane Copeland on 4-30-2012 at 03:55 PM · [top]

Re [17]  Good points about love. The New Commandment of Maundy Thursday was to love one another as I have loved you. And how did Christ love us? Sacrificially. We called to sacrifical and not self-indulgent love.

[19] Posted by Don+ on 4-30-2012 at 05:06 PM · [top]

My husband and I are blessed to be in a fairly new (2years this past Easter) Anglican congregation in Portland, OR.  Our priest preaches directly from the Bible, usually an expository sermon on one of the lessons or the Gospel.  Moreover, our kids are studying the Bible—the young ones memorize verses and recite them for the congregation; the junior and senior high kids have been studying Isaiah all year long.  And the Adult Education Committee is committed to teaching Bible study, study of the Anglican tradition, and theology for the adult learners in the congregation; currently my husband and I are leading a group on the Book of Isaiah.
I guess all I am saying is that there is hope where there is Bible-centered leadership such as we have.

[20] Posted by drjoan on 4-30-2012 at 06:49 PM · [top]

For various reasons, I’ll probably never go back to the OPC.  I will say though that 98% of the time, the preaching I heard in the OPC is better (much better) than the preaching I’ve heard within Anglican (yes, conservative Anglican) parishes.  There is an unwritten understanding that pasters in the OPC will spend at least 20 hours per week prepping two Sunday sermons. 

Once in a blue moon, there will be a “as good as,” sermon;  and less seldom there is an Anglican sermon that knocks it out of the park.  But it’s one of those things where it feels statistically inevitable. 

Strong preaching is probably a piece of the puzzle, I grant. 

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that the kind of ecclesialogy that puts guys who mortgage their homes to to go seminary, on equal footing with ice cream parlar managers, doesn’t transpose so well to Anglicanism.  Nor should it.

[21] Posted by J Eppinga on 4-30-2012 at 07:46 PM · [top]

quite excellent analysis, Matt. The key point is this:
There has been a loss of confidence in the Scriptures as the means, ultimately, by which God guides His church, presents Christ to us, calls us to faith and sustains us in godliness.

Or, put simply, many have stopped listening to God while thinking that they still have a hotline.

[22] Posted by David Ould on 4-30-2012 at 08:38 PM · [top]

If I understood you correctly, “by the late 90’s” means the eventual muck and mire all mainline denominations ended up with over so many years of oblivious decline.

Indeed, the Episcopalian who didn’t know how to make use of scripture to challenge and battle “new” theological developments and wayward bishops and clergy existed 40 years before at the end of the 50’s. 

The surge of membership growth after WWII throughout the 50’s allowed clergy to believe that no matter what they said or did, growth was inevitable.  And once the money and brick and morter followed, that sense was able to be institutionalized.  It just took 50 years to figure it out, despite the hard work of so many to make it clear what really counted, the Word of God.

So, indeed, despite the strong and gifted biblical teaching provided by God through the Holy Spirit to the mainline denominations (such as Terry Fullam, and through such as Chuck Irish), as you say, “many Episcopal leaders began to focus on creating a “spiritual experience” to the exclusion of teaching biblical doctrine”, because they weren’t paying attention to the foundations of such grace.

[23] Posted by Rob Eaton+ on 5-1-2012 at 01:57 AM · [top]

Matt,  Thank you for this piece.  It’s an exceptionally accurate diagnosis.  Perhaps because I have spent almost 30 years in seminary education, reason #3 resonates with me most strongly.  The Word of God is of paramount importance.  If theological education gets that wrong, it doesn’t matter what it gets right.  We cannot simply teach about the Word in training clergy, we must teach the Word in a way that demonstrates its life changing power so that it permeates every aspect of our graduates’ ministries. 

We must instill a love for God’s Word in our seminaries and in our parishes, because when you truly know what it means to fall in love with the Bible, you never fall out of live with it.

But, God help us, we have an awfully big job ahead of us—for all seven of the reasons you mention.

Robert S. Munday+
Nashotah House

[24] Posted by ToAllTheWorld on 5-1-2012 at 02:29 AM · [top]

“In my experience many North American Episcopalians/Anglicans, even from very good orthodox churches, have only a rudimentary concept of what lies between Genesis 1 and Revelation 22

Oh dear, that doesn’t leave much…!

[25] Posted by MichaelA on 5-1-2012 at 05:02 AM · [top]

The key is the seminaries. 

In any orthodox diocese or province, there is always a core group of committed laity, clergy and bishops.  These people should be communicating and fellowshipping with each other on an ongoing basis.  If possible they should have a formalised existence which helps to ensure succession.  For example, the Anglican Church League in Australia/Sydney.  But however you do it, one of the main goals of this group should be to ensure that the seminaries maintain a committed orthodox faculty, who concentrate on turning out committed orthodox clergy who are well-equipped for building up the church.

Get this right, and everything else will follow.

During the 70s, 80s and 90s, the liberals made a sustained assault on the Australian church and took over much of it.  Sydney Diocese held firm, in no small part due to the large numbers of well-trained clergy turned out by Moore College.

[26] Posted by MichaelA on 5-1-2012 at 05:35 AM · [top]

Excellent article.  Very recently I was talking with a couple who are conservative and well-grounded theologically who still bear wounds from their former Episcopal parish, which they left.  They had attended this parish for years, thinking it was conservative theologically, and so it was.  I think that what had really happened was that SOME parishioners were grounded in Scripture, whilst others were being grounded in Matt’s points 2 and 7 above - nice wooly spiritual moments in a context of caring for everyone and not offending members of the “family”.  When the somewhat weak orthodox priest retired, the diocese was able to play heavily on 2 and especially 7 to push liberal candidates.  The vast majority of the congregation wasn’t equipped to do any sort of sound analysis, and so they went with a candidate who promised spiritual moments, caring and being nice.  And the frogs in the pot had the water turned gradually up till it is boiled.  And the conservative couple saw what was happening, raised their voices about it, but were told that they were being divisive.  They discovered that what appeared to be a conservative parish was instead a house built on sand that was quickly washed away.

This is the thing that also concerns me about ACNA.  Sure, today it is orthodox and conservative.  TEC was once also.  We need to be thinking long-term - not just about homosexuality over the next 10 years, but rather all heresies and false teachings over the next hundreds of years.

Now we are in a TEC parish that is neither conservative nor liberal, though the priest is solidly orthodox. And the sermons are frequently expositions on Scripture.  Many parishioners don’t like hearing the Scriptures preached - they prefer funny jokes, fuzzy stories and the like to make them feel good.  And they certainly must be kept short - no long sermons allowed!  There was a mini-uproar when the priest bought Bibles for the pews so that people could follow the Scripture references, and notes were left on the pulpit calling for shorter sermons.  So even when Scripture is being taught, there is no guarantee that it will be liked (which is no excuse for not preaching it).  But I’ll bet that this also fits in to Matt’s point 3 - if you aren’t convinced of the importance of Scripture, than why not do sermons that will result in happy faces and complements instead of sermons that challenge people?

[27] Posted by jamesw on 5-1-2012 at 11:28 AM · [top]

“There was a mini-uproar when the priest bought Bibles for the pews so that people could follow the Scripture references, and notes were left on the pulpit calling for shorter sermons.” #27

Perhaps this article should be “We’re the way we are because we are North Americans.”  Consumers.  “Customers” who must always be right, with our clergy as employees.

Perhaps the next evolution will be to put our clergy in hair nets/paper hats and disposable gloves, with a nice set of scripted options before preaching: “Thank you for requesting the 7 minute thought for the week.  Would you like an internet story, a poem or a popular sitcome reference with that?”

[28] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 5-1-2012 at 11:53 AM · [top]

I’m jumping on late here, but I would add to Matt’s list that we have lost the classical Anglican understanding of the Eucharist.  I sometimes joke that the 1% in the Anglican world are those who have read and actually believe what Cranmer said about the Lord’s Supper.  In my estimation, the classical Anglican position on the Lord’s Supper links it inseperably from the preaching of the Word.  In the Eucharist, faith in God’s promises is confirmed.  However, God’s promises are innumerable.  So, if we aren’t striving to preach Scripture as the record of God’s faithfulness to His boundless promises, the faith we preach has little content for the Eucharist to confirm.  In other words, pastors who preach 15 minute sermons that don’t strive to unpack the unfathomable riches of God’s grace in the Gospel, choosing somehow to focus on the Eucharist instead, rob the Eucharist of it’s true power.  In a lot of ways you’ve already said this.  I am simply saying the reason why many pastors choose to be “Eucharistically Centered” instead of “Word Centered” is because we have lost the classical Anglican understanding of the Lord’s Supper.  Thanks for this article, Matt.  It’s spot on.

[29] Posted by boydmonster on 5-1-2012 at 12:06 PM · [top]

All good points.  I would also add to this understanding is the general “dumbing down” of society, looking for 30-second black and white simple explanations vs. understanding the depth of God’s Holy Word.

How do we combat this?  We need to get everyone reading God’s Holy Scripture daily and praying earnestly daily as well.

[30] Posted by B. Hunter on 5-1-2012 at 02:58 PM · [top]

Yall are saved by grace alone, faith alone and you believe in an invisible gnostic church.  So why do you need to know the bible? You got Jesus as your personal savior and pass to heaven, so why do you want to bother people with any moral demands from the bible? They might read the parable of the sheep an goats and think they have to work their way to heaven.  Better to leave them sola.

[31] Posted by Ordinary on 5-1-2012 at 07:34 PM · [top]

Yes, you’ve got a good priest there.  I’d advise you don’t get rid of her.

I must say, if I had found notes stuck to the pulpit like that—especially in a small congregation such as yours or mine where I know everybody’s handwriting pretty much—well, I would have left a sticky note or two of my own in the pew where that person sits.
Perhaps you can think of what I might say.

: )

[32] Posted by Rob Eaton+ on 5-1-2012 at 07:42 PM · [top]

Hi Ordinary,

I’d be happy to respond if you were making a coherent point. Why don’t you step back, cool off, and then come back and comment reasonably.

[33] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-1-2012 at 08:51 PM · [top]

one word:  irony
I actually agree with most of your piece.

[34] Posted by Ordinary on 5-2-2012 at 04:01 AM · [top]

In the Prayers of the People, when we pray for the clergy, we pray that they may be “faithful ministers of the Word and Sacraments”.  It’s a two-fold job from the get-go.  Those of us who are lay people need to not just SAY that but mean it when we pray, pray for our clergy at other times than just the Prayers of the People, and be active in Bible Study ourselves.  Our church as an active and promoted Small Group Ministry, and the favorite study of most of the groups is the Bible.  Right now my group is in the book of Acts, and last week we managed to cover ONE verse!  The deeper we go, the more exciting it is!  We just had a Lenten Study program from the book of Leviticus, of all things!!!  And 70+ people turned out for it!  We KNOW we need both!  Wish we could get others as excited about it as we are!

[35] Posted by Goughdonna on 5-2-2012 at 11:03 AM · [top]

“The only way to prevent that from happening is to begin the often painful process of re-catechizing the church from square one.”  I like your article Matt. The ACNA is in the process of constructing a new prayer book that will also include a new catechism. I haven’t seen the trial liturgy yet. Much of my “preaching” is really teaching since that is my background. For me, the beauty of the lectionary is that it has an underlying rationale and helps the preacher stay on task following the church seasons and year. Most of my homilies are able to pass the “so what?” test but I always include some doctrine. Doctrine is part of our tradition, informs and is faith building. Conducting morning prayer once a week for the last four years has given me a real appreciation for our heritage by including the appropriate feast days celebrating the saints of the church. In short, the more I know, the more there is to love about Anglicanism.

[36] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-2-2012 at 03:11 PM · [top]

One more reason: There is a smug feeling that we get more scripture than the protestants because we read three scriptures every Sunday.

One more solution: Turn off the computer, pick up your Bible, and start reading.  The KJV is written on a 5th grade reading level; the ESV is said to be 8th grade reading level (more 3 & 4 syllable words); it is not difficult to read.

[37] Posted by Frances S Scott on 5-2-2012 at 04:11 PM · [top]

#37. Frances S Scott
“There is a smug feeling that we get more scripture than the
protestants because we read three scriptures every Sunday.” We get four actually. I don’t know if this increases the smug factor.

[38] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-2-2012 at 06:04 PM · [top]

Fr Dale, It definitely does increase the smug factor!  The problem is it doesn’t increase our understanding of Scripture.  If it did, instead of being the denomination with the most rapid and radical departure from Scriptural truth, we’d be conquering the world with the Gospel!

[39] Posted by boydmonster on 5-3-2012 at 12:18 PM · [top]

Part of the problem is that often clergy don’t address the issues delivered to them in the scripture passages AND in my experience, at least some I know don’t “finish” the sermon until Sunday morning. Since I am not a rector, I have (take) the time to work on a sermon over the span of a couple of weeks. The acid test is my wife reading it. She is not my harshest critique but she is my most vocal critic. I don’t have the skill to work without a net (go off script) and I do admire those who can but some do nothing more than splice anecdotes together. The more I preach, the more the Scripture seems to speak to me as I write a sermon. So much of the New Testament is not just the realization of O.T. prophesy but almost like a mirror of the O.T.

[40] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-3-2012 at 03:16 PM · [top]

Fr. Dale,
If you are less than and hour away, I’ll listen to you any Sunday of the year!

[41] Posted by Frances S Scott on 5-4-2012 at 11:39 AM · [top]

Frances S Scott,

[42] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-4-2012 at 07:28 PM · [top]

This article strikes home something that has bothered me for years. To make a long story short, I am looking for a scripture based Anglican/Episcopal church in my area (Bay City, MI) with a scripture based Sunday school for my children. I can recognize and reject deviations from scripture, but I can’t have my children led astray. I have looked on the internet. The Saginaw dioceses strikes me as a diocese about an evolving faith. I’d rather be “stodgy” and keep with scripture, tradition, and reason. The websites for the Episcopal churches in my area do not give much usable information to draw conclusions. I don’t want to church shop and get my children confused. Right now, I have no church and teach my children at home. I would appreciate any help, direction. Thank you.

[43] Posted by GlassDarkly on 5-6-2012 at 07:15 AM · [top]

Fr. Dale,
You are welcome.  Fresno is a far piece from Guffey, CO…can’t make it.

[44] Posted by Frances S Scott on 5-6-2012 at 02:18 PM · [top]

Frances S Scott,

We do have downloadable digital recordings of the sermons.

[45] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-6-2012 at 02:22 PM · [top]

GlassDarkly, do you know anything about St John’s in Saginaw?  Or is that too far?  I went to seminary with Dan.  He’s a good guy.

[46] Posted by boydmonster on 5-7-2012 at 10:24 AM · [top]


Thank you for the recommendation. I have not visited St.John’s in Saginaw. It is a bit of trek, but not not bad. I will definitely visit St. John’s.

[47] Posted by GlassDarkly on 5-10-2012 at 05:20 AM · [top]

Glassdarkly, I take your point about not wanting to confuse the kids, but in the past I have found our kids fairly tolerant about “visiting” other churches. We just said we were visiting another church where I knew someone years ago, and they didn’t ask any more questions.

Once you find one and settle down, then its likely the kids will soon forget about the “visiting” phase and just get on with making friends, going to Sunday School etc.

[48] Posted by MichaelA on 5-16-2012 at 09:50 AM · [top]


Thank you for the advice. It is good to have someone with perspective with children give me some insight.

[49] Posted by GlassDarkly on 5-16-2012 at 04:15 PM · [top]


Your satire almost had me convinced that you indeed WERE an ordinary…in the mighty mitered one sense.  Glad you are not, or, if you are, can I transfer to your jurisdiction?

In His Name,
Fr. Chip

[50] Posted by Fr. Chip, SF on 5-22-2012 at 07:28 PM · [top]

Seems uncharitable in tone and unnecessarily either/or to me.  Why not be sacramental, mystery oriented,  and Bible centered?  He implies that you have to choose between these things, and slanders many faithful priests along the way. Or am i missing something? Why does he not simply say the good folks of ACNA need more Bible?

[51] Posted by greggoebel on 4-3-2014 at 05:00 PM · [top]

Hi Greg,

Not sure if you are familiar with our policy but “tone policing” is a violation. This is your one warning.

[52] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 4-3-2014 at 05:13 PM · [top]

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