Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Yo, Jesus! (Douglas Wilson, cont)

I HAVE IN THE LAST POST COMPARED him to a Roman legionnaire standing against the barbarian hordes. This did not please everyone (I will not say least of all the barbarians). So I shall drop it for this review. Besides, it is of no great issue.

For in this work (A Primer on Worship and Reformation, Canon Press, 2008) we find Doug Wilson more as a Roman calmly visiting fellow Romans, only to find them rather like barbarians already. He is not a man with his finger in the dike, but a man addressing fellow men, all of them up to their necks in the rising waters, asking if, well, wouldn’t a dike have been a very good idea after all? And would you like a bucket? Yet perhaps the time for buckets has passed; and had we better find a ship? And won't you please come with me?

If you are bamboozled and downhearted by the huge erosion of the old Christian ways in our lands - as I am sure many Monarchist readers are - you will find this little 80 page book timely and instructive and well worth a purchase. (It comes out in November).

He is not here going after the liberals - whose own perverse error will go even after themselves in time, like a hungry snake eventually devouring its tail - he is not rushing to provide punishment for those to whom punishment has already in many ways come (I think one of the greatest punishments for atheism, is atheism) - he is sitting down with his friends, modern American evangelicals, and staging an intervention. For the modern evangelical American church is in trouble. It desperately needs an intervention. It is an alcoholic drunk with the cheap plonk of merchandise, witless worship and Mammom, neglectful of the true cup of Christ; it is a shameless fatty, obese with Christian-themed power-bars (really) and absent at the Lord’s Supper. This is a tragedy. The book hopes for a remedy.

HE HAS TWO ARGUMENTS. Firstly: “[m]aking all necessary adjustments for the changes in time and place, the modern evangelical Church, eyes fat as grease, bastion of born againism, is fully as corrupt as the Church prior to the Reformation.” Secondly: how inwardly to solve this, and how outwardly that shall manifest itself and continue. That is, we have a crime; and Wilson, in effect, takes up his deerstalker and here sets to work solving it - and not just solving it, tells us how it might be undone altogether.

Now, the first argument need hardly be substantiated. Of course, he probably goes a little far in the comparison with late-medieval Romanism: it is unlikely that the modern evangelical church in America is really on the cusp of proposing to execute those who refuse to buy Dashboard Christs. But we know much of it is in a bad way. We have all seen the odd relic of ‘Jesus Junk’ featured on some godless British programme, or in some godless British newspaper, pored over with all the solemnity and bemusement of a Victorian gentleman reporting on the religious rituals of the Thingumajiggy tribe of Outer Wotsitland. We all know the stereotypes. But it’s still worth reading his chapter on them; for they are errors fallen into by fellow Christians, and we are all responsible, for we all of one Lord, one faith, one baptism. We are in the same covenant as those who have gone astray. There will be no reformation away from these errors, nor we will ourselves keep from them, unless we take our brethren with us, and repent together. (This a key point Wilson himself makes in later proposing his reformative solutions).

Wilson is here briefly, as he puts it, “a satirist” to make them “turn red and embarrassed”. He reveals that such trading in these impudent products - cheesy logo t-shirts (e.g. with “Christ Supreme” in the “Krispy Kreme” font), the Veggie Tales (in which bible stories are retold using animated… fruit), Christian death metal, Christian pop, Christian mints with scripture printed on them (Testamints) - is a 4 billion dollar annual industry.

Take a moment and ponder on that and - weep. For it is worthy of our tears.

As he puts it, they have no longer Logos - the Word (Christ) of John 1 - at the heart of their faith, but logo. This is of course a peculiarly American disease for the time being, though I suspect we escape only through dint of there not being enough British Christians to sustain a 4 million dollar industry in such nonsense, let alone a 4 billion one. We escape, that is, simply by being perhaps closer to death. (Yet Wilson’s proposals are proposals to solve that too).

And it is stirring, whatever your nationality, or the state of your church, to read such forthright, honest, clear-eyed criticism of this trash - there is something in his certainty and pith which savours of the man who has confidently seen the other side of the hill, and comes back knowing there are better things, and ready (as he is, and does) to share of them.

And here, particularly in the latter half of the solution, is where the English reader will be most especially struck by this work.

THE FIRST HALF OF THE SOLUTION is inward or attitudinal, and most important: it is the solid foundation. “The flotsam and jetsam at your local Jesus Junk Store is what we find floating on the surface after the shipwreck of reverent worship”. So we need reverent worship back. We need faith properly practiced. Obvious enough. But how? Not simply the outward forms, for they - practiced faithlessly - are what drove people into the arms of this idiocy. First we need to fix our inside position.

We must be, argues Wilson, High Church Puritans (the subtitle of the book). We must not give up on Church, and split, and split, and split again, in the name of purity: but stay and purify the church we are in. This makes us Puritans, who historically did just that, hence their (abusive) name. And we must abandon individualism, the great heresy of our time, and the cause of much of the consumerist and frivolous liturgical drivel he laments. Not by saying, like a leftist, that we are less than individuals; but by acting in the knowledge that we, as Christians, are more than individuals. We are a Church too: we are a corporate body: we must submit to each other and to authority and most of all to scripture. In this we are High Church too, for we have a high view of it. So we are High Church Puritans. These are, quite logically, when you think about it, the only ways - bound at all times, firstly and lastly, and always by obedience to Scripture - that anyone is going to be able to both avoid the depths of modern evangelical uselessness and bring our brothers and sisters in Christ along with us out of it. If we are to rescue them, we need to do more than stand upon the opposite shore and shout. We must make certain they are in the boat with us, and working at the oars with us, (and explain that this because our Captain in Heaven has ordered us to do so in Scripture, and the plans for the boat are even contained therein); even if this means holding one’s nose at the stink of their heresy whilst we share the galleys with them, and remind them what an oar is.

The second half of the solution Wilson posits is more outward, but utterly dependent on the true evangelical faith as formed by the first half: it is the method of worship filled up with this faith, the vase into which we pour the water, and which somehow keeps the water from going stagnant, and helps it, in time, to grow great things. And it is striking for any faithful traditionalist Anglicans amidst our noble readership. They will, I trust, already have been struck by his recommended attitude of High Church Puritan faith - for has it not been thankfully displayed in recent months by the Godsend of GAFCON? Well, he further urges and argues for a number of active manifestations of this faith that sound, oddly, rather like a Church of England in rude health; as it once was, and might be again.

1) The primacy, efficacy and inerrancy of the Word of God (which as Wilson points out, was first opposed not by Rome, but by the serpent in Eden: “Did God *really* say…”) cf. Article VI of the Anglican Church, ‘Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation’!

2) A liturgy which follows the Old Testament-foreshadowed and New Testament-fulfilled pattern of i) guilt offering - confessing our sins; ii) ascension offering - offering ourselves to God; iii) peace offering - sitting down at the Lord’s Supper. Cf. the Book of Common Prayer’s Holy Communion service, which follows this to a tee!

3) “When we understand what is actually happening in a worship service, our contemporary flippancy evaporates … What happens when a small group of saints gathers in a clapboard community church somewhere out in the sticks? At their call to worship, they ascend to the City of God, to the heavenly Jerusalem. They walk into the midst of innumerable angels.” Cf. the Book of Common Prayer’s Preface before the Lord’s Table in Communion!:

“Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord most High. Amen.”

4) So, says Wilson, put down the amp, and step away from the light-as-froth contemporary praise. Take up the Psalms. The modern style of praise had its place, because it is faithful; and anything faithful is better than the most beautiful irreligion. The old hymns, denuded of faith by men and women slipping away, repelled modern Christians into the arms of this breezy, artless worship style, where at least there was faith. But, being faithful once more, it is time to go back to the old, rich methods: the chanting of the psaltery, our “battle hymnal”, which alone has the full picture of our walk. Cf. the Book of Common Prayer, which contains - of course - the entire psaltery, and is set out for chanting, as is still regularly practiced in (some) churches!

5) Treating our children as Christian children, rather than hovering around them till they display some signs of faith, and if, having been treated as potential infidels, they plump for infidelism, being flabbergasted. He proposes we treat them as members of the covenant too. For that is what God promises they are. In effect, though he doesn’t quite say it here, he is proposing the baptism of infants and confirmation for communion - lest faithful children be turned aside by the doubt of prevaricating Presbyterian and Baptist doctrines on these points (which Wilson singles out as troublesome).

The two further things he urges, and which can really be considered valuable additions to the CofE stock-house are:

6) Better preaching. This is not so much new, as something to rediscover; for the Church has known the greatest of men, from Cranmer, to Whitefield, to Edwards, to Wesley, to Ponsonby and Roberts in its pulpits. But it needs reverently energetic, confident preaching again and still, which treats the Word of God as the Word of God - a sword, with a mind of its own, not a museum-piece letter opener; and one to be used like the sword which prepared the OT sacrifices, to prepare us as living sacrifices for God, as scripture demands, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).

We need, says Wilson, preaching imbued with metaphor and liveliness, just as God’s Word is; throwing off the shackles of timid, Radio 4 reasonableness, where one must proceed by hook and by crook, and carefully fasten one’s message to the tent poles of p.c. prejudice. We need proclamation not suggestion. We must return simply to the Word of God preached as the Word of God would have us preach it; using the Old and New Testaments together, as the Prophets and Apostles before us, and adopting their plain, confident, direct, scripture-filled style recorded and seen throughout their preaching and sermons in scripture.

7) Weekly communion: as the seal and ongoing outworking of the body of Christ, a special blessing, we must partake of the Cup of the Lord; the living Christ; come before the God of Hosts through the flesh of his son; not the bread and wine being transformed, but the body of Christ, the Church, being transformed into the likeness of his being - holier, more faithful, more obedient, more fruitful - through this weekly meeting in faith, not hoping for a personal moment with Jesus, but a corporate moment with God. This is a far cry from the traditional (i.e. pre-20th century) Anglicanism of quarterly communion. And I think there is much to be said for it. For, whilst the quarterly communion is done out of a lively faith in a Just God (to partake of whose sacraments unworthily is literally a deadly sin), does not St Paul warn us that whatsoever is done of doubt is sin too? It is a demanding thing to live as perfectly as one can, so as not to fall short each week of that communion; but then we are not meant to make accommodation for sin.

SO THIS LEAVES THE ANGLICAN reader in a slightly different place to his American readership. But what is remarkable is that it is equally valuable to both, and leaves both with much hope (and work to do). It is marvellously applicable to our troubles here, and would be profitably read by all curious Christians in the old Anglican holdouts, and even those who have forsaken the CofE for want of seriousness and true faith. For we Anglicans are blessed in having much already done for us, as we see here, by the Reformers, and in that indispensable little Prayer Book of ours. We have naught to do, so much as to turn back, in full faith, and take up the holy things of old with the grateful faith of now. And yet the High Church Puritan ethic - reverencing scripture and ecclesial authority which also reverences it - and holding onto those who are with us, even when they are against us - is peculiarly and marvellously suited to our lot of late as well (for there are many that be against us). I think it more than probable that together, God willing, there can be fruit - and such fruit! - of Wilson's gracious arguments here.

Indeed a national church, catholic and reformed, established under law - strikes me as the perfect vessel, and I bless God for giving it to us; for I think perhaps the Americans have suffered unduly and worse from their lack of an established denomination that can thereby hold them together in covenant as a people. Their splitting apart has been hastened accordingly, and much of hell has broken loose as a result; almost exactly parallel to how they continue to suffer from the want of a monarchy in their turbulent, nonsensical political sphere, a fateful doom good King George himself prophesied. (And which sadly, with our quiet 20th century coup of the politicos, we have not avoided either).

A Primer on Worship and Reformation: Recovering the High Church Puritan by Douglas Wilson is due to be released on November 11, 2008 and is published by Canon Press, from whom this book can be pre-ordered at www.canonpress.com.


8 comments:

Beaverbrook said...

You're a good writer, Sir Walter, if you'll permit me an economy of expression. I won't blame it on Oxford, but if I haven't said it before, I'm saying it now. Someone has taught you well.

Indeed Monarchy and Christianity are hand and glove. I'm actually a little disappointed that none of us commented even once on the Lambeth Conference, the C of E being part of our identity, yet nary a word for an event that happens once a decade.

I have a dislike for American evangelicals and prairie preachers who have supplanted authority with the need to make a rich living. In any event, I think you can basically divide the nominally Christian West into the haters (anti-theists), the godless (atheists), the unbelievers (agnostics), the Protestants (protesting what, I haven't the foggiest. Much of these can be classified as indifferent or unthinking) and the Orthodox (Catholics, Eastern, High Anglican! I wish), both reformed and unreformed. The question is, which of these groups or groupings are the biggest? Well, anyone? Bueller?

I think (I know?) the anti-theist/atheist/agnostic grouping is far bigger today than the last two, which can be loosely defined as self-identifiable Christians. Hence, the post-Christian West.

Theodore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Theodore said...

I share the critical sentiments of those who have been a little puzzled by the promotion of Douglas Wilson's brand of Christianity, which historically has been hostile to monarchy, hierarchy, and tradition, at this blog. That there is much wrong with both secularism and contemporary Christianity I can agree; but I doubt very much that Wilson's idea of what kind of "Reformation" is needed would be congenial to me. Here is what I would like to see in Anglicanism: a return to the majestic language of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, an end to the "ordination" of women, a revival of the tradition of choirs of men and boys and with it an emphasis on choral (rather than congregational) singing, acceptance of the Oxford Movement's emphasis on ancient ceremonial, and an affirmation of an "un-American" hierarchical worldview. From my perspective I don't see that Wilson has anything valuable to say; in fact I would guess that he would be opposed to most of what I hold most dear.

Aeneas the Younger said...

"For the modern evangelical American church is in trouble. It desperately needs an intervention. It is an alcoholic drunk with the cheap plonk of merchandise, witless worship and Mammom, neglectful of the true cup of Christ; it is a shameless fatty, obese with Christian-themed power-bars (really) and absent at the Lord’s Supper."

So, nothing has changed in America since Reconstruction. And this is news?

Neil Welton said...

"Prairie preachers who have supplanted authority with the need to make a rich living."

I do wonder which budding preachers you have in mind, Lord Beaverbrook. For surely this big Wally be a most excellent writer. Indeed, it is a good job that he not be a crime writer, for it be a crime against all humanity that he offers (on his Profile page today) to manicure lawns in order to survive. Get this Dandy a job this instant! We must get on the telephones tomorrow.

I'm with Theodore. Amateur theology is like amateur psychology - defined by its abundance as opposed to its worthiness. A return to the most Majestic language of The Book of Common Prayer is what is really needed. A return to true Anglicanism with an attack on Pharisees, fallacies and inaccuracies - but not necessarily in that order. "Great British Anglicanism". GBA. Not GBH.

Sir Walter Scott said...

Theodore - we are utterly of one mind. All your prescriptions accord with mine. We seek the same medicine; and the same health; and the same glory.

I fear I am obviously not doing a very good job in these posts (of which there will only be three in total, don't worry) of putting forth Wilson's brand of Christiaity, however. For it is essentially your brand and my brand too. The most curious thing is that he isn't, after all, an Anglican. (Yet). But he (in his Blenheim Letures most recently) urges a return to the 1662 BCP, the use of choirs, and traditional ritual. His speciality is trying to reunite the faithful with the things they threw away because of the faithless (not least because of course the faithless were second out the door, and now the old things are just dormant, waiting either for us or for more dust).

But anyway, being an Anglican I am course not so much promoting Wilson's brand of Christianity, as warmly appreciating it - for, despite it not being Anglican, it is effectively and unintentionally proto-Anglican. That is, it has and promotes many of the benefits of our God-blessed denomination, without deliberately doing so; and so puts forth the true goodness of them with that much more vigour and clarity for having arrived at them with true diligence and hard work. He is like Chesterton in 'Orthodoxy', who, having put the finishing touches to his heresy, turned round to find he had painted the old Truth.

The rapture of a man who has found something amazing by mistake is often more enjoyable than the report of a man who has simply been confirmed in his expectations.

As for being jobless - 'tis true. Miserably, miserably true. And I do have a lawnmower I can use.

Theodore said...

I thank Neil and Sir Walter for their comments. In the interests of honesty and full disclosure I think I should make clear that I am not, strictly speaking, an Anglican or even a baptized Christian, though I obviously have some interests and sympathies in that direction, as I also do with traditional Roman Catholicism. So far I have been unable to overcome my alienation from the way the authorities of both Churches have stripped them of virtually everything I admire. [See "Rare Non-Monarchical Rant" (May 13) at my blog for more.] I wish both Anglican and Roman Catholic traditionalists well, as much as possible without sharing their faith.

Neil Welton said...

This be entertaining. One minute I be an evangelical, the next I be a catholic, next minute I be evangelical again, next catholic once more, before coming home to the Anglicanism. In the face of such consistency I have decided to remain a Christian in The Church of England.