The battle of the threshold. We need to win the battle of the prayer threshold. To help me persevere in prayer, I sometimes imagine a very high stone wall, with the living God on the other side of it. In this walled garden he is waiting for me to come to him. There is only one way into the garden -- a tiny door. Outside that door stands the devil with a drawn sword, ready to stop me. It is at this point that we need to defeat the devil in the name of Christ. That is the battle of the threshold. I think there are many of us who give up praying before we have even tried to fight this battle. The best way to win, in my experience, is to claim the promises of Scripture, which the devil cannot undo. --- John R. W. Stott
If a religion isn't different from the surrounding culture--if it doesn't critique and offer an alternative to it--it dies because it's seen as unnecessary. --- Tim Keller
Why progress is slow. I sometimes wonder if the comparatively slow progress towards world peace, world equity and world evangelization is not due, more than anything else, to the prayerlessness of the people of God. --- John R.W. Stott
Accepting the claims of transgender ideology requires papering over one's conscience and making a mockery of the "law written on the heart" that our bodies bear witness to in our complementary design. --- Andrew T. Walker and Denny Burk
January 22, 2017 will mark the 44th anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which struck down the abortion laws of all 50 states and allowed unborn children to be killed in the womb for any reason at any time during pregnancy. --- Anglicans for Life
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is consulting on its policy regarding 'homophobic and transphobic hate crime'. Unfortunately, whatever the intent of this policy, it undermines equality and limits freedom. It could have a draconian effect on any Christian who believes and upholds the Bible's teaching. --- Christian Concern -- UK
Theological knowledge used to be judged not by what kind of Bible trivia quizzes you could ace but by what kind of life you lived. --- Greg Forster
Dear Brothers and Sisters
January 6, 2017
WELCOME DEAR VOL READERS TO 2017
What better way to start the first digest of the year than to proclaim that conservative churches are growing, and will continue to grow, while liberal churches will continue to decline and ultimately die. And so it will be for the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Church of England. They are all on a down-hill trajectory with no sign they can or able to turn around in the foreseeable future.
Dr. Robert Millard Haskell, a professor of religion and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University, says that his research shows liberal churches are dying, but conservative churches are thriving.
Mainline Protestant churches are in trouble: A 2015 report by the Pew Research Center found that these congregations, once a mainstay of American religion, are now shrinking by about 1 million members annually. Fewer members not only means fewer souls saved, a frightening thought for some clergy members, but also less income for churches, further ensuring their decline.
Faced with this troubling development, clergy members have made various efforts to revive church attendance. It was almost 20 years ago that John Shelby Spong, a U.S. bishop in the Episcopal Church, published his book "Why Christianity Must Change or Die." It was presented as an antidote to the crisis of decline in mainline churches. Spong, a theological liberal, said congregations would grow if they abandoned their literal interpretation of the Bible and transformed along with changing times.
Spong's general thesis is popular with many mainline Protestants, including those in the United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian (U.S.A.) and Episcopal churches. Spong's work has won favor with academics, too. Praising Spong's work specifically, Karen L. King of Harvard Divinity School said in a review of Spong's book, that it "should be required reading for everyone concerned with facing head-on the intellectual and spiritual challenges of late-twentieth-century religious life." Harvard Divinity professor and liberal theologian, Harvey Cox, said "Bishop Spong's work is a significant accomplishment," and indeed, Cox himself has long been at the task of shifting Christianity to meet the needs of the modern world. Thus, liberal theology has been taught for decades in mainline seminaries and preached from many mainline pulpits. Its enduring appeal to embattled clergy members is that it gives intellectual respectability to religious ideas that, on the surface, might appear far-fetched to modern audiences.
But the liberal turn in mainline churches doesn't appear to have solved their problem of decline.
"Over the last five years, my colleagues and I conducted a study of 22 mainline congregations in the province of Ontario. We compared those in the sample that were growing mainline congregations to those that were declining. After statistically analyzing the survey responses of over 2,200 congregants and the clergy members who serve them, we came to a counterintuitive discovery: Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth while liberal theology leads to decline. The results were published this month in the peer-reviewed journal, Review of Religious Research.
"We also found that for all measures, growing church clergy members were most conservative theologically, followed by their congregants, who were themselves followed by the congregants of the declining churches and then the declining church clergy members. In other words, growing church clergy members are the most theologically conservative, while declining church clergy members are the least. Their congregations meet more in the middle."
You can read the full story in today's digest.
A case in point is the rump Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth, which wants you to believe that it is growing and thriving when, in fact, the facts show otherwise. Jeff Walton, of Juicy Ecumenism exposes the lies and spin of the diocese in a story posted to VOL. The Episcopal News Service (ENS) -- the Episcopal Church's official mouthpiece -- is running a continuing series of articles on the renewing Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth (TEC), the remaining Episcopal diocese which effectively formed late in 2008 after a supermajority of Fort Worth Episcopalians all voted to disassociate from the denomination.
The central focus of the first article is that remaining Episcopal Church members are reconceiving what church entails, and are now focused upon social service and outreach as they worship in unconventional spaces.
"We're not trying to rebuild an old church," Fort Worth Bishop Provisional J. Scott Mayer tells ENS. "We are trying to participate in resurrection to become a new body."
Episcopalians have the right to reorganize themselves into a new entity and continue their affiliation with the national church. But the article makes statements up front that are not in accord with the church's own self-reported statistics, writes Walton.
"Fort Worth has 17 congregations, including a Lutheran congregation pastored by an Episcopal priest. In the time since the split, the diocese has seen a 19.3 percent increase in communicant members and an 11.9 percent increase in operating revenue. Since reorganizing in 2009, Fort Worth has annually paid the full amount asked of it by the Episcopal Church to support the churchwide triennial budget. It is the only one of six dioceses in the state of Texas to do so.
"Statistics provided by the Episcopal Church Office for Research tell a different story. In 2010, the remaining diocese reported 22 parishes, 6,075 members and average Sunday attendance of 1,995. By 2015, that had dropped to 15 parishes (-32%), 4,674 members (-23%) and 1,416 attendees (-29%). Marriages performed declined from 21 to 12 (-43%). This is not a trajectory of growth.
You can read the full story in today's digest.
And then there's this: living proof that when people reject orthodoxy, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything. A Diocese of Montreal rectory is now home to a witches' coven, a report from Modern Pagan News and Commentary.
St. Thomas' Anglican Church in the Diocese of Montreal prides itself on being, "an open-hearted, welcoming, inclusive church." It is so inclusive, it is housing a witches' coven in its rectory, an arrangement that, apparently, provides opportunities "to work together on interfaith projects." What sort of "interfaith project" you might be wondering? Something along the lines of: Fillet of a fenny snake, In the thurible boil and bake, I expect. Both church and rectory are wheelchair and broomstick accessible.
You can read the full story here: http://wildhunt.org/2017/01/old-montreal-rectory-welcomes-witches.html I am indebted to David of Samizdat for this story.
To the Clergy and People of the Diocese of Fort Worth:
Well, December has come and gone, and still no decision from the Second Court of Appeals. We had expected a ruling by the end of the year, based on our understanding that the justice writing the opinion was to retire on December 31. So evidently the case has been given to a different justice, and we have no idea when the opinion may be released. Shelby Sharpe estimates that the decision is "a few months away." This is discouraging, but all we can do is wait and pray and try to remain patient and hopeful.
We still expect a favorable ruling, based upon the previous decision of the Texas Supreme Court. The delay does not indicate anything has gone wrong or that we should be worried about a different outcome.
Do pray daily for wisdom and clarity for the justice charged with writing this very important opinion.
The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Third Bishop of Fort Worth
The Diocese of North Carolina, Bishop Michael Curry's old diocese, is looking for its 12th bishop. On the ballot, so far, are four white guys, but no women; One queer, three straight men.
On the list are: The Rev. Canon Michael Hunn, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry within the Episcopal Church, is one of two nominees by petition in the Diocese of North Carolina.
The other nominee by petition is the Rev. George Adamak, rector of St. Paul's Church in Cary, North Carolina.
The Rev. Charles T. Dupree, rector of Trinity Church, Bloomington, Indiana. "I have been married to Matthew Cole since 2011; prior to that, we were partners for sixteen years." Vickie Gene was "married" for 25 years to his partner and still it didn't work out.
The Rev. Samuel S. Rodman III, special projects officer in the Diocese of Massachusetts.
Not an orthodox priest among them. The diocese was going downhill under Curry, no positive change can be expected in any of these choices.
Insanity has gripped Scotland apparently. Don't leave religion to the bigots opposed to LGBTI inclusion, urges a Church of Scotland minister backing schools campaign. The faith agenda must be "seized back from the bigots and the haters" opposed to LGBTI inclusion, a Church of Scotland minister has said.
Highland minister, Reverend John Nugent, spoke out as he declared his support for the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign, which is pressing for Scottish schools to overhaul the classroom approach to LGBT issues and wipe out bullying based on sexuality and gender identity.
Human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar and actress Emma Thompson are amongst high-profile backers.
Now Nugent, who leads worship at the Saint Fergus Church in Wick, has become the latest faith leader to come out in support of the push.
Claiming the current approach breaches children's rights and that religious groups should embrace young LGBTI people, Nugent said failure to act leaves religion to "bigots".
He said: "Inclusivity lies in the DNA of faith. The founders of the great faith traditions left the door open to all, and it is this ancient path that must be reclaimed and promoted; the faith agenda then being seized back from the bigots and the haters."
Nugent is the latest faith leader to support the campaign, following Reverend Kelvin Holdsworth of the Scottish Episcopal Church and Islamic scholar Amanullah De Sondy.
The Church of Scotland offered a muted response and said this: "The Church has a range of voices and Rev. John Nugent is speaking in a personal capacity as a parish minister. The Church welcomes people regardless of their sexual orientation. The Church continues to discuss issues of human sexuality and any decisions on this matter would be openly debated at a future General Assembly."
A woman who became a sexual assault campaigner after she was raped during a burglary at her father's vicarage, has died after suffering a stroke. Jill Saward, then 21, was sexually assaulted by two men in Ealing, West London, in 1986. Her father, Michael, and her boyfriend were severely beaten.
Ms. Saward was the first rape victim in the UK to waive her anonymity. She went on to use her public profile to campaign for the victims of sexual violence.
Ms. Saward, 51, who was also known by her married name Drake, had three sons and lived with husband Gavin in Hednesford, Staffordshire.
In a statement, her family said she had dedicated the past 30 years of her life to helping other people.
They said Ms. Saward had requested her organs be donated to others after her death.
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also paid tribute, tweeting: "Sorrowed to hear of the death of Jill Saward (Drake), heroic and remarkable campaigner for the victims of rape: much sympathy to her family."
Four Episcopal California bishops have sent a letter of concern to president-elect Donald Trump voicing concern over the intended appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The bishops also state their continuing support for all people in the United States and call for him to be "a leader for all [...] but especially [a] protector for the vulnerable" by reconsidering his cabinet choices. The letter was sent Dec. 29, 2016, to President-elect Trump in hard copy and electronic form. Letter in full included below:
Dear President-elect Trump,
Recently (December 12, 2016) our brother and sister bishops in the Episcopal Church in the State of Massachusetts wrote you to strongly question and oppose your nomination of a climate-change denier to be the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Like the bishops in Massachusetts, we, the Episcopal bishops in the State of California oversee a body of faithful people who pray for our country's leadership every Sunday. We have faithfully prayed for President Obama over the last eight years, and we are already naming you to God, for your safety and protection, and for wisdom from God in the leadership of our country and in the councils of the nations of the world. There are 422 Episcopal congregations in the State of California, and they carry you in their prayers to God, as do we.
We join with the Episcopal Bishops of Massachusetts in questioning and challenging your choice for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The great majority of reputable scientists recognize not only the reality of human-induced climate change, but the looming danger to our children and grandchildren from the worst, unchallenged effects of climate change. We have a slender period of time in which we can, with great concerted effort, and under your leadership, avert the worst consequences of climate change for future generations. We need you and your cabinet to work hard to prevent a bad future for all of the world's children and all of life on the planet.
We also wish to register with you our strong, continuing and resolute support for the rights and dignity of refugees and immigrants in the United States, for people of all faiths, and especially Muslims and Jews who continue to be the objects of prejudice and hatred, for women, for people of color, indigenous peoples and for those economically disadvantaged. It is our belief that the President of the United States is a leader for all the people of the United States, but especially he or she is protector for the vulnerable. We ask you to re-examine your choices for your cabinet in light of your responsibility to guard the dignity and welfare of all.
Just days into the new year, the U.S. Army has already handed a major victory to religious liberty advocates.
New Army regulations released this week state that servicemen and women at the brigade level will now be granted religious accommodations to wear turbans, beards, and hijabs in accordance with their faith. The move comes just days after the New York Police Department announced its decision to allow officers to wear turbans and grow beards for religious reasons.
Such accommodations for Army service members were previously made on a case-by-case basis.
"Based on the successful examples of Soldiers currently serving with these accommodations, I have determined that brigade-level commanders may approve requests for these accommodations," wrote Secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning, in a letter announcing the decision.
The new regulations will also permit religious bracelets, as well as dreadlocks for female soldiers.
GAFCON has conﬁrmed the dates for its third international conference. Between 17-22 June, 2018, it will return to Jerusalem, the venue of the ﬁrst Global Anglican Future Conference in 2008 (from which the movement takes its name).
The GAFCON announcement explains that 'The city stands as a constant reminder of the birth of the gospel and the movement's determination to remain true to the teachings of our Lord and his Word' and so, to appreciate the significance of the 2018 conference, it is worth recalling how it all began.
Over 1,100 delegates gathered for that first conference, including over 200 bishops, many of whom came to Jerusalem rather than attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference alongside those bishops of the Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC) who had set aside the biblical teaching on sexuality affirmed by the1998 Lambeth Conference by assenting to the consecration of a man in an active homosexual relationship as a bishop.
But this collapse of Communion discipline was symptomatic of the growing rejection of biblical authority in the Anglican Churches of the West, and GAFCON 2008 addressed this challenge by approving a contemporary statement of confessing Anglicanism, the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration.
I was present when it was first read to the assembled delegates. The effect was electrifying. Spontaneous prayer and praise broke out with the realization that we were witnessing an historic moment. The faithful majority had now found its voice and the Word of God was to be restored to the heart of the Anglican Communion. As a start, a GAFCON Primates' Council was formed to give global leadership and the Anglican Church in North America was recognized as a new orthodox province.
The second international conference in 2013, hosted by All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi, saw delegates rise to over 1,300 and confirmed that GAFCON was here to stay. Highlights included: a commitment to principled intervention to provide oversight for those faced with persistent false teaching; the need for a more developed organizational structure; and formal recognition of the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), working both within and outside the formal structures of the Church of England.
Bad joke of the week: "Our times require a moral compass", Seattle's Episcopal cathedral says. Truth is the Episcopal Church hasn't had a moral compass in four decades. At the brink of the New Year, the cathedral issued a statement of love and inclusion, condemning racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and sexual assault as sins, re-establishing the church as sanctuary to the vulnerable, recognizing the gift of diversity and vowing to "fight for climate justice and protection of our environment." No mention of Jesus of course, but then why would you if you believe you can have a "moral compass" without him?
I travel globally to get you the stories few others write. We need a budget for 2017 which, to date, has not been forthcoming. We must pay our bills and only you can make that happen. Please lend a hand in helping us make 2017 a viable year for VOL.
Funds are low. Would you consider partnering with VOL to give us a working budget for 2017? To keep these digests coming into your e-mail box each week is time consuming. Our work is encouraged by your giving. It helps us believe that all we do is worthwhile. Our hard-working team of reporters and commentators feel the encouragement when you give. Your donation is tax-deductible.
Please help make this possible. You can send a donation to VOL via PAYPAL at the link here: http://www.virtueonline.org/support-vol/
Or you can send a snail mail check to:
570 Twin Lakes Rd
P.O. Box 111
Shohola, PA 18458
Thank you for your support.
We conclude this digest with these words from T.S. Eliot:
"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice."
On the Mainline
Worship with us:
Sundays at 4:00pm.
210 S. Wayne Ave, Wayne, PA