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Catholic Faith, a Common Ground,
a Winning Strategy

F. Earle Fox
 my first sermon at the Episcopal Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Placentia, Ca., Sunday, July 16, 2006

[This piece, slightly amended, was my first sermon preached at the Episcopal Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Placentia, Ca., Sunday, July 16, 2006, where I have been worshipping and helping out for a couple of years.  The parish, like many in the Episcopal Church, is in a discernment process, asking the Lord how to handle the present collapse of Christian faith in the western branches of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church in particular.  E. Fox]
 

 

A. My Background

I am immensely glad to be here, and would like to introduce a bit of myself to you, which I will be doing through the sermon. God had given me a good mind, but I had made some decisions very early on which nearly paralyzed my emotional life, so I have spent a good bit of my now 71 years unwrapping and untwisting the consequences of that. It led me into an exploration of human nature, brokenness, and healing. One of the better consequences of that is a book, Biblical Inner Healing, which will be available in a week or so, as soon as I get the cover from a friend who is doing the graphics. Then off to the printer.

I knew in my junior year in college that we Christians, or really Judeo-Christians (the "Judeo" part is important), could win the culture war, that we could recover our intellectual integrity. I knew that -- thanks to two professors which I had at Trinity College in Hartford, Ct., way back in the mid-1950's.  

One was an Episcopal priest, Kenneth Cameron, an Anglo-Catholic, and professor of American and English literature. One of the toughest professors I ever had, and one of the best. I had been raised very "low church". But he invited me to serve mass for him on Fridays, along with a few other students. And I got introduced to some of Anglo-Catholicism. He was instrumental in helping me keep my emotional balance during those years, and not sinking back into more of those earlier bad decisions.

The other professor, Edmond Cherbonnier, was quite a different person, not hard-driving, low-key, and low-church, and a permanent deacon. He started the religion department my junior year. His theme was that there are two ways to look at life, two worldviews, the Biblical way and "the other" way, i.e., secular/pagan (Perennial) way.

The Biblical, he said, was the only logically consistent way, all other worldviews fell into contradiction. I was majoring in philosophy, and my philosophy professors were not saying that, so I took his courses, and was completely convinced that he was right. I have never had reason to change my mind.

I went from Trinity to General Seminary in New York City, during which time I took a year of clinical training for chaplaincy work -- in a city prison, a general hospital, and two mental hospitals (still searching for what made me tick). From there I went to Oxford where I did my doctoral work in the relation between science and theology -- proving to my own satisfaction, at least, that science logically requires the Biblical worldview to function at all, and that only a Biblical culture could have come up with science.

B. The Downfall of the Western Christendom

By the early 19th century Christians had lost their intellectual credibility, leading to the horrendous disaster of the 20th, in which Christians had all but lost their public testimony. No one was listening to Christians any more in the public arena. We were chased out, and ran with our tails between our legs.

Secular/pagan forces were happy to fill the void. But our secular leadership gave us the most brutal century in human history. By the middle of the century we had already slaughtered a greater percentage of the human race than any other century. And we Christians were impotent.

The sad fact is that secular and pagan civilizations (if you can call them civilized) are not capable of producing peace or unity, other than by coercion or mind-control. History over and over bears that out. So, in a sense, you cannot blame them for the carnage.

But why were we Christians and Jews almost totally incompetent to preserve what God had given us -- a Judeo-Christian Western civilization? How has it come about that a nation founded firmly on Biblical principles is now, by law, forbidding Biblical principles in schools and promoting homosexuality? How has this come about?

In 1987, John Spong, Episcopal bishop of Newark, NJ, published his "Newark Report" in which he told us that we needed to rethink our position on homosexuality, and on post- and pre-marital sex -- meaning that we were supposed to approve of such things. I was astonished. But then my own diocese of Connecticut came out with a similar report. And then I was introduced by some friends to the work of Alfred Kinsey, the fraudulent academic fountainhead for the sex-revolution of the 1960's, who had told us, on zero credible evidence, that homosexuality was quite normal.

I wrote responses to Newark, Connecticut, and Kinsey, published them in a book, and filled my car with materials for a workshop distinguishing pagan sexuality from Biblical, and went to the 1988 General Convention to enlighten anyone who wanted to listen, saying, "Here is Biblical sexuality, here is pagan. You folks out there need to decide what you want to be, Christian or pagan."

The material was based on the Biblical view of human sexuality which springs right out of the creation story, being made in the Image of God -- male and female, and a very frank presentation of what homosexuality is all about. Not a pretty picture. But so far as I know, the material presented never once got to the floor of debate. That was not the fault of the pseudo-liberals (who do not liberate anyone), I would not expect them to present the material. The pseudo-conservatives (who cannot conserve anything) would not touch it.

For the next three General Conventions, I set up shop, and tried to educate the bishops and other delegates on the truth of the matter. Never once did the material get presented on the floor. And I was actively discouraged from raising the issues, not by "liberals", but by "conservatives".

We are in a war. We, the orthodox, have all the live ammunition -- objective evidence, the demonstrable truth, the revelation of God. The other side has only blank ammunition -- no truth, no evidence, but a super good PR system, and they are at least shooting, making a lot of noise, and scaring the pants off our side. Why is our side not shooting?

Our side, so far as I know, has never had an offensive strategy to take back the Episcopal Church. Our side is always responding to their initiative, and always asking for permission to keep a place at the table. Since when did the people of God go, hat in hand, to ask anyone's permission to speak the truth. We have the mandate, the command, to bring the good news to the whole world.

That timidity, uncertainty, and confusion is true generally in politics and everywhere else -- of the many so-called "conservatives", who are incapable of conserving anything. Napoleon remarked that, "The logical end of defensive warfare is to surrender." The other side has not won the Episcopal Church, our side has, in effect, surrendered it.

At that first Convention in 1988, I met Alan Medinger, an Episcopalian who had come out of homosexuality and was running Regeneration, a ministry associated with Exodus, a worldwide network of ex-homosexual ministries. He said, "Earle, you should be teaching this stuff at the Exodus conferences." So the next year, I was off to Exodus, and continued lecturing at their conferences through most of the 1990's on how the Biblical view of human sexuality can help set one free from sexual addiction.

In 1998, I was asked by the leader of the Exodus ministry in the Washington, DC, area, whom I had met at Exodus, to come and be the director of his ministry, as he was engaged in another project, which I did for 2 1/2 years. But my real interest and focus was on Christian apologetics, teaching people how to present and explain the Christian faith reasonably in public.  So I returned to my own Emmaus Ministries.  But my experience with Exodus led me to put together a seminar to teach churches how to do that with the homosexuality issues.

During six years in the DC area, I got to know or had contact with well over 100 pastors.  Of all those, only one showed significant interest in such a seminar. I am obviously not a salesman, and do not have a good PR program going.

But I do know how to teach, and I do know how to talk with people who violently disagree with me, and lead the discussion into some kind of helpful communication. That is what my seminars were about. There is a winning strategy. But it means shooting bullets of truth -- gracefully.

C. Anglo-Catholic

I said I was not raised Anglo-Catholic. I remember mostly a sort of middle of the road, eucharist-centered, very mildly (to put it kindly) "evangelical" Episcopal Church.

My own aim in my thinking and ministry was to be "Biblical", as I had come to understand that term from Edmond Cherbonnier, and truthful, not Anglo-Catholic, which I still very little understood.

But while in the DC area, something strange happened. I had almost immediately joined the local DC chapter of a well-known conservative Episcopal action group, thinking, "Here they are, right in the belly of the beast (DC Diocese which is heavily invested in relative truth, the ordination of women, homosexuality, etc.). They, of all people, need training in how to deal with homosexuality."

I gave a little speech saying that if they did not get training on how to handle these issues, in another three years, we would be here at this same table, debating these same issues, mostly with "Ain't it awful!" discussion.  And sure enough, after three years, there we still were, at the same table, literally, and same "ain't it awful" discussions. The leadership would not get serious about winning. So I departed. None of the local Episcopal evangelical churches in DC, Maryland, or Northern Virginia were interested in what I was doing.

But Fr. Michael Heidt, whom I had met, had offered a standing invitation to join him at St. Luke's in Bladensburg, Md., just outside of DC, but in the DC diocese. He was the only Episcopal rector within driving distance who would put me to work. It was not my cup of tea, but there I was, at an Anglo-Catholic church, wondering, "Lord, what's going on?"

I had been there about two years when a local layman got the idea of starting a kind of mission church from the Forward in Faith chapter of his also Anglo-Catholic church in DC, as a refuge for those who could no longer tolerate what was happening in their parishes, including the Anglo-Catholic ones. By that time, I was in the process of moving out to Vista, Ca., and the Christian Community of Family Ministry, but had a few months before I left, and told them I would be their interim priest until I left. One of them dropped the remark that I preached really good Anglo-Catholic sermons. I was, to say the least, surprised. I was just trying to be Biblical and truthful, not Anglo-Catholic. Again, "Lord, what's going on here?"

After about a year in Vista, I moved up to La Habra to teach at Biola, where the closest orthodox Episcopal Church is ---- Church of the Blessed Sacrament.  And guess what -- Anglo-Catholic.

I had never felt right about leaving the Episcopal Church, at least not without having put up an honest fight. As I said to someone last week, I would rather get kicked out than walk out. But nobody on our side seemed to want to honestly challenge the revisionists. The other side wanted to fight, but not honestly. Our side just did not want to fight at all.  We got captivated by the endless "dialogue to consensus" of the other side. Our side seemed interested only in surviving, keeping their place at the table -- no matter that the terms meant compromising and groveling, agreeing not to speak the truth in clear terms. 

I have believed all along that we could win this war -- if we would shoot. Or, to use the Biblical image, unsheath the sword of the Spirit, speak the truth in love, not let them get away with deceit and manipulation. Their super PR program is a masterpiece of mind-control. They are good at it. But it can be torpedoed because they are also terribly vulnerable.

When I heard Fr. David's recent sermon about staying in the diocese, that resonated with my thoughts. I am impressed that the prophets never left corrupt Israel to start a new one.

But stay and do what?

There have been many emails flying around the internet about the Episcopal situation, some of them quite good, raising these issues about staying or leaving. Some of those emails and articles have made reference to catholic order, and the catholic way of doing things, that we do things together, as a body, not at soloists. That too struck a cord with me. But something was still lacking.

D. Western Civilization means Christian Civilization

To show what was lacking, let me back up, and tell you what I believe to be the root of our enormous problem in Western Christendom.

About six centuries ago, or thereabouts, God began doing two wonderful things which appeared to many to be radical. Many did not recognize that God had anything to do with these events. Western Civilization was forming its more mature identity, passing, you might say, through our (very legitimate) teen rebellion against parental Church authority.

The two items which distinguish Western Civ. from all others are (1) the rise of science, and (2) the development of due process in civil law, that is to say, a government based on equality before the law and the basic freedoms for all citizens, which we have come to associate with the West. We know it best here in America as a democratic republic under God. I want to focus on science. Politics is another good story.

That means that Western Civilization is Christian Civilization.  It means that as we lose our Biblical base, we will also lose those two core foundations of what we consider civilization. 

It is one of the great ironies and tragedies of history that, although both of these were gifts from God, and neither of them could possibly have arisen except within a Biblical worldview -- with, as we now say, an Intelligent Designer, nevertheless we Christians managed to make enemies of both.  We have put the sharp edge of reason into the hand of the enemy, and they are putting it to the throat of the Church.

The rejection of science happened largely in the early 1800's when, under the threat of the rising secular Enlightenment, we Christians panicked and came to believe that there was a fundamental opposition between reason and revelation, that the secular folks could keep their nasty old reason, to which they had laid claim, but we would manage with our revelation.

That was a slander on God, imputing irrationality and arbitrariness to Him, and saying that God was incapable of defending His own case against the likes of Darwin, Freud, Marx, and Dewey, builders of 19th century secularism.  If God had showed up to debate the folks, He would have lost, we assumed.  So we got out of their way, hiding behind our church walls. 

In giving us new and more sophisticated levels of science, God was sharpening the two-edged Sword of the Spirit. The two edges are, I believe, reason and revelation welded back to back. They make an invincible weapon.

No wonder Satan concocted a scheme to pit the two edges against each other, and used God's own people to do it. A house divided against itself cannot stand -- we have on good authority.  When Christians gave up on reason, we also gave up any hope of ever getting Christendom reunited.  Look at us today.  No wonder no one is listening to us in the public arena.  Christians are fractured, confused, and confusing.

We have gotten just what we have deserved.  God's biggest problem is rarely the unbelievers, it is almost always His own disobedient people.  We backed off from the challenges of science, which is about open, honest truth-testing, largely because we were afraid that our religion might not survive the test.  We said "no" to the newly sharpened sword of the Spirit. 

And what would God's answer be to that?  "Well, if your belief does not survive an honest truth-testing, why are you believing it?"  That would be God's answer.

E. Catholicity and Truth 

As I was ruminating about all these issues this last week, a thought hit me like a bolt from the blue.  It had to do with the meaning of 'catholic' (small 'c').  What are we talking about?  How do we know when we have found it?  What are its uniquely distinguishing marks?  The word at its root means 'universal', that which applies to all people at all times, in all circumstances.  So how do we know which truths are like that?

The Roman Catholic Church identifies catholicity, universal truth, with the teachings of the Church, the gathered traditions over time as discerned by what they call their magisterium.  Protestants identify universal truth with Scripture.  If it is clearly and consistently taught by Scripture, then it is universally applicable to all.

But both of those might have some truth -- if they did not beg the question -- how do we know that either the Church or Scripture have the truth to begin with?

To answer that question, I want to take you back to an event almost 3000 years ago, about 900 BC. It took place on a mountain top, a contest between a prophet and an evil king.  Elijah, at the command of God, told King Ahab to gather the people of Israel on Mount Carmel -- along with the prophets of Baal and Asherah.  I Kings 18:17 ff.

And Elijah came near to all the people, and said, "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." And the people did not answer him a word.

The people were silent -- probably fearing trouble ahead with the two opposing parties  facing each other. 

But to what is Elijah appealing?  Logic.  Reason.  Reality is either/or, not both/and.  You have to choose.  You are living in a contradictory way, following in two different directions.  Make up your minds.

And then he says:

Let two bulls be given to us; and let them choose one bull for themselves, and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; and I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, and put no fire to it. And you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, he is God." And all the people answered, "It is well spoken."

The people responded, "well spoken" because they understood an honest contest when they saw one.

To what is Elijah now appealing?  Fact, empirical evidence.

What does this sound like? Does it remind you of anything?  Honest contest, appeal to fact and logic.  How about "science"?   Rough and ready to be sure, but recognizably science.  From where did Elijah get these ideas?  What university did he attend?  He did not sneak in a course at Harvard.  He did not sit at Aristotle's feet.  This was 5 centuries before the first Greek philosophers.  So from where was this coming?

God was doing this.  God is insisting that His case be put to an open testing for all to see and judge for themselves.  And why is God doing this???  Because truth is the only possible common ground upon which any two persons can communicate.  That includes God communicating with His people.  If you want to communicate with anyone at all, you must be a truth-seeker and a truth-speaker. The Sword of the Spirit.

God understands that, and so has constructed the world to be rational, orderly, the kind of cosmos in which science could happen.  No other worldview says that.  None.  Not any pagan view, not the modern secular view.

And what is a Christian testimony?  It is our own direct experience about what God has done in our lives, the same stuff of which science is built.  At the bottom of every scientific experiment is someone's testimony as to what he saw or measured.

Science is just common sense paying attention to the details, common sense honed to a fine edge.  It is the two-edged Sword of the Spirit dividing between truth and falsehood.  Science is the way of the cross for the intellect.  We give up our right to be right, and let truth and the Lord of truth speak for themselves -- through the evidence.  That is where we discover the common ground of truth.  That is why the Hebrews on Mount Carmel perked up when they saw the honest contest Elijah was constructing.

The Biblical test for the true God is to identify which of the alleged deities can keep his promises.  If God cannot show up and defend His own case, we owe Him no allegiance.  That is the principle given to us by God.

So what is 'catholic'.  Catholic is not identified by the Church per se, nor by the Bible per se.  Catholic is identified by truth.  Only truth can be universal for all persons at all times in all circumstances.

And how do we know truth?  By the methods of science as applied in the various areas of investigation.  Theology used to be called the Queen of Sciences.  It still is.  Truth is identified by the open and honest contest based on reasonable rules of evidence.  That is the very heart and core of science.  The rules of evidence will differ according to the area being investigated.  Physics, theology, and history will all be different. 

How then can a Church claim to be catholic -- by insisting on that Elijah-experiment as a way of life, by keeping the arena of truth-testing always open, governed by honest rules of evidence.  By having the attitude, that if I am wrong, I want to know -- not, If I am wrong, I do not want you to know.  Humility.  The way of the cross.  It is through that alone that reliable tradition can be gathered and passed on to future generations.

So the catholicity of both the Church and the Bible come out of their truthfulness, out of their pointing us to the universal, common ground of truth, out of their consistent ability to stand through the honest public contest for truth.   

The Bible is the history of God doing precisely that with His own people, drawing us ever more closely to Himself by open persuasion, by convincing evidence.  In Isaiah 1:18, God states again his principle, "Come, let us reason together..." 

When it comes to reasoning, God (as secular people think) is not the problem.  We are the ones who do not show up for the discussion.  Living in the light is scary stuff.  Too much truth scares us to death -- unless we are willing to die to ourselves, to be buried with Christ so that we can be resurrected with Him.  And to where are we resurrected?  Onto that common ground of truth.  Where else would the Kingdom of God be?  

This is, I believe, what God is trying to teach Western Christians.  It is in some ways a uniquely Western problem because science rose here, and we Western Christians have rejected it.  The African and Asian Christians can encourage us and help us, and I thank God for them.  But there are some matters which, under God, we will have to resolve among ourselves. And learning how to wield the Sword of the Spirit, being truth-seekers and truth-speakers in the public arena is right at the core of the problem.

I believe that is the lesson Anglicans around the world will have to learn if we are going to construct a meaningful "Anglican covenant" under which we can work together as an Anglican Communion.

So, if we stay in the diocese and ECUSA, what do we do?

We begin first with ourselves, get our own relation with God on track, learn how to wield the Sword of the Spirit, how to live in the light ourselves, how to love our neighbor just like we love ourselves, how to draw people who may violently disagree with us into discussion of truth, how to expose the manipulation that is commonly employed to control discussions.   We must first do that among ourselves, not those folks "out there". 

And then we find ways of bringing the light into whatever avenues the Lord may open for us in our local relationships, family, friends, with other parishes, other clergy, and then if God leads, into diocesan affairs, and beyond.

(And if that does not work, we always have karate for a backup.)  [The rector, Fr. David Baumann, teaches karate as an aid to spiritual growth....] 

God is calling us into a remarkable journey of faith and courage.  He wants His people to take back Western Civilization for Jesus Christ.  There is no force on earth, no totalitarianism, no mind-control, no misguided religion or government which can stand against an intellectually, morally, and spiritually mature Judeo-Christian community. 

So let's get on with it. 

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