Archive for September, 2015

The Times doesn’t get religion

Sunday, September 20th, 2015


Sir: Your leader (“Church at Bay,” Sept 17) offers a flawed analysis of the crisis besetting Anglicanism. It is unhelpfully patronising to African Anglicans. Your assumption of post-colonial resentment and prejudice fails to account for why so many American, Australian and English Anglicans share their views.

A better analysis would be tto take into account the tension between a faith that recognises the integrity of the Bible in a way that saves it from the colonialism of passing cultures (nothing to do with literalism), and a secularized faith which prefers so-called “progressive” values antithetic to the faith. The present ominious decline of progressive CofE Anglicans in relation to the flourishing of orthodox traditional Anglicans demonstrates the difference.

The archbishop is to be wished well in his attempts to reconcile the irreconcilable. But for as long as the Church of England chooses to prefer the Marxist meme of “egalitarianism” to the countercultural values of the gospels, it risks both the collapse it presently faces and the bringing into being in England of an alternative, renewed Anglican orthodoxy, which stands with the majority of Anglicans across the globe.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Gavin Ashenden — Chaplain to the Queen

Dr Ashenden’s letter was written in response to The Times leader “The Church at Bay” of 17 Sept 2015

For more than a decade the Church of England has been consumed by backbiting and threats of schism as it debated the contentious issues of women bishops, gay clergy and scriptural literalism. This has been a depressing and unedifying spectacle. It has severely weakened the authority of the church at a time when faith has become an ever more controversial political issue. In the process it has obscured the valuable work that the church still does in education, social care and pastoral support for millions.

The arguments have gone far beyond the seminaries and pulpits of Britain. They have wrought havoc throughout the Anglican communion, the family of 38 churches in communion with each other and with Canterbury. Worse, church doctrine, especially on such divisive issues as human sexuality, has become entangled in growing resentment at the continued dominance of the Church of England. In African and other developing countries this dominance is seen as a quasi-imperial hangover from a bygone age. Seizing on an issue that appeals to widespread prejudice, some African churches have denounced the liberalism of western churches as flawed and decadent. For many, the consecration of an openly gay bishop by the Episcopal Church in the United States in 2003 was the last straw.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation yesterday to all primates to meet in January to thrash out their differences is a bold attempt to end the arguments that have brought the Anglican church to the brink of schism. It is also a high-risk strategy, with splits and walkouts more likely than agreement or even agreement to disagree. Why has he taken this step now?

First, he is determined to focus Anglicans on the most serious issues confronting Christians today, from violence and persecution in the Middle East to poverty and the protection of vulnerable children throughout the developing world. This is impossible as long as they are wasting their energies quarrelling among themselves. Like Rowan Williams, his predecessor, he wants to keep the 80 million-strong communion together, but not at any price. So he is proposing a looser, less imperial structure. A church can decide not to remain in communion with every other one, as long as it retains a clear link with Canterbury. As a source at Lambeth Palace suggests, it is not a divorce; more like sleeping in separate beds.

Second, the archbishop, a former oil executive, likes clarity. The communion cannot go on pretending that all is well when it is not. Better to part, if only temporarily, than fudge moral, doctrinal and structural disagreements. He has prepared the ground. His marathon visits over the past two years to the primates of all 37 other provinces have been as shrewd as they were exhausting. He went abroad to listen rather than summoning the faithful to Canterbury. The resulting insights and goodwill may be crucial in resolving differences.

Finally, the archbishop is determined that the church should play a more visible role in resolving conflict. This is within its own congregations, with other Anglican churches and with other religions, especially Islam. The circles are overlapping and interlocking. His determination to get women bishops approved at home has paid off. He now needs to find a common focus within the communion. Only then can he begin to make reconciliation between faiths a global goal.



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Welby breathes new life into the crumbling Anglican Communion

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

Anglicanism: the final frontier. These are the prophetic voyages of Justin Welby. His continuing mission: to explore strange new reconciliations; to seek out new wine and new creations; to boldly go where no archbishop has gone before.. least since the Reformation.

It has long been evident to those who have a jot of spiritual discernment or a tittle of ecclesial wit that the Worldwide Anglican Communion isn’t quite working. It is no longer so much a united worldwide communion as a parochial assembly of divided communities – disparate and factional; disjunctive and factious. The episcopal discontent is pervasive, and the theo-political disputes are legion. There’s no point pretending that we can go on like this: if Anglicans are to be honest and honourable in their fellowship, something needs to be said quite candidly. We should not play fast and loose with the Body of Christ for the sake of outward unity: either we are all transformed inwardly and strive to be one – as God is in Christ and Christ is in God – or we remodel our communion to reflect outwardly what we are inwardly: variegated, several and divergent.

That doesn’t, by the way, mean that we stop loving one another or hurl “Heretic!” at those with whom we disagree. It is perfectly possible to dissent with fondness, friendship and humble appreciation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a pope: he has no infallible levers to pull and no magisterial buttons he can press. In Anglican ecclesiology, he is the Primate of All England and Diocesan of the Diocese of Canterbury: he has absolutely no authority whatsoever over the other 37 provinces or the six extra provincials, which are autonomous. Within the Worldwide Anglican Communion, Justin Welby is primus inter pares; an instrument of communion; the focus of unity. So, when that unity becomes little more than a charade, it is potentially his integrity which is dragged through the mud, and his spirituality which is tarnished – at least in the worldly soundbites of tabloid profanity. Of course, he isn’t personally or directly to blame: the churches in Africa and the United States of America are free to apply their understandings of Anglican theology in accordance with the mores and traditions of their cultural contexts. Archbishop Justin can weep, counsel and pray, but he cannot excommunicate: the Archbishops, Presiding Bishops and Chief Pastors of the various Provinces are all equal in the Communion.

But this Archbishop of Canterbury isn’t one for sweeping lost causes under the carpet of quasi-communion. He seeks a solution to the impasse and has therefore sent a letter to all the Primates. He is inviting them all to an extraordinary gathering at Lambeth Palace between 11th-16th January 2016. That’s going to be around 35-38 archbishops and presiding bishops all gathered for frank, face-to-face, full-frontal truth-telling. In love, of course, because ++Justin will be presiding, and he won’t tolerate un-Christian incivility.

They’ll be discussing what unites them and what divides them; whether the Communion ought to continue as it is presently modelled, and whether the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury needs to change. There will be no ‘Continuing Indaba‘ for the pursuit of “cultural models of consensus”, and no meditation on the mission of “mutual creative action”. The days of fudge, patch and hedge are over – unless, of course, all the gathered Archbishops, Presiding Bishops and Chief Pastors determine to ignore the pleas and prayers of the Primus inter Pares.

But (and it’s a very, very interesting ‘but’), Justin Welby has not only invited the 37 recognised primates of the Wordwide Anglican Communion: according to Lambeth Palace (..and here’s the Guardian headline..) he has also written a letter to Foley Beach. That isn’t a cruise-ship resort in sunny Florida: The Most Rev’d Dr Foley Beach is Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which split from The Episcopal Church (TEC) when The Most Rev’d Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori set her face against social conservatism and theological orthodoxy on matters relating to gender and sexuality. The letter of invitation to Archbishop Foley is significant because ACNA is not a recognised member of the Worldwide Anglican Communion (according to the traditional instruments of communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury).

Yet what credible discussions may take place if he is snubbed, since ACNA is affirmed and recognised by other Anglican provinces, in particular those belonging to GAFCON?

There are clearly provincial fractures and parallel churches already operating throughout the Communion. What hath Nigeria to do with New York? We can carry on pretending while the media focuses on continuing divisions, or we can agree to differ over women’s ordination/episcopacy and homosexuality, and restructure accordingly, leaving provinces autonomous to the extent of adapting Anglican identity, and other provinces free to reject such adaption altogether in favour of a more robust approach to biblical truth. It would be the Orthodox model of ecumenism, which consists of a communion of 14 autocephalous regional churches, bound by a common ecclesial heritage, which extends even to those of irregular or unresolved canonical status.

The Archbishop of Canterbury will doubtless take counsel from his episcopal peers so that the Worldwide Anglican Communion can flourish and fulfil its vocation to preach Christ and him crucified. In a world beset by burning, beheading, rape, torture and torment, with Christians being slaughtered and systematically cleansed from the Middle East, there are clearly more urgent tasks facing the Church than that of sustaining an ecclesial structure which is no longer fit for purpose.

The age of the Imperial Church is over: neither the evangelisation of the world nor the re-evangelisation of the West will be achieved while Christians are captive to their constitutional formulations more than the Word of God. We need to decide where the Anglican Communion is going, and we need to agree that it’s got to go somewhere that it isn’t presently going. This is about humble hearts and discerning minds and witnessing to the gospel; not pussyfooting around with primate protestations about who’s in and who’s out and whether the canons should henceforth be gender neutral. If the Worldwide Anglican Communion cannot come together to fulfil the Great Commission, it is time to acknowledge that the season has turned, and that the Worldwide Anglican Communion might become the Worldwide Anglican Communities – each an autocephalous service of prayer for the contextual work of mission.

This is a bold, prayerful initiative by Justin Welby, based securely on the ecclesial principle of subsidiarity, bound entirely by the collective spiritual authority of the Worldwide Anglican Archbishops, Presiding Bishops and Chief Pastors. You may portray this as reformation, abolition or dissolution. It may lead to bemusement, dismay or confusion. But the misinterpretation or disinformation ought not to deflect from the reality that families sometimes grow apart. Justin Welby has no power or authority to reform anything: he is breathing new life into an ailing, infirm and perhaps incurable body. It’s worth a prayer.

GAFCON calls for ‘truth on the table’

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

GAFCON calls for ‘truth on the table’

Sep 18, 2015

Media StatementBishops at GAFCON 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s call for a meeting of Primates in January 2016 shows that he has recognised the deep concerns of faithful church leaders around the world, including those belonging to the GAFCON movement who represent the majority of the global Communion’s membership.

GAFCON began with the first Global Anglican Future Conference in 2008 as an initiative to restore the integrity of Anglican faith and order as the Communion descended into deepening crisis.

We are now a global family standing together to restore the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion with a strength and unity that comes from our common confession of the Lord Jesus Christ, not merely from historic institutional structures.

It is on this basis that the GAFCON Primates will prayerfully consider their response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter. They recognize that the crisis in the Communion is not primarily a problem of relationships and cultural context, but of false teaching which continues without repentance or discipline.

Consistent with this position, they have previously advised the Archbishop of Canterbury that they would not attend any meeting at which The Episcopal Church of the United States or the Anglican Church of Canada were represented, nor would they attend any meeting from which the Anglican Church in North America was excluded.

It is therefore of some encouragement that the Archbishop of Canterbury has opened the door of this meeting to the Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, Archbishop Foley Beach. He has already been recognized as a fellow primate of the Anglican Communion by Primates representing GAFCON and the Anglican Global South at his installation in Atlanta last October and he is a full member of the GAFCON Primates Council.

In the end, our confidence is not in any structural reorganisation, useful though it may be, but in the saving grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and in the abiding truth of the Bible. That is what empowers us and this is the assurance we bring to our broken world.

September 17, 2015 AD

Contact the GAFCON media team

Vatican pushes back over White House invite to Catholic dissidents

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

Washington D.C. (CNA/EWTN News).– The presence of LGBT activists and other controversial guests at the White House welcoming ceremony for Pope Francis has reportedly drawn concern at the Vatican.

A senior Vatican official has said the Holy See is concerned that any photos of the Pope with the controversial guests could be interpreted as an endorsement, Wall Street Journal writer Francis X. Rocca reported Sept. 17.

The White House directly invited some guests to the Sept. 23 South Lawn ceremony, including retired Episcopal Bishop V.Gene Robinson. His election as the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop helped split the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

The White House also invited the LGBT activist group GLAAD to the reception. The organization is circulating a media guide for the papal visit that encourages journalists to consult dissenting Catholic groups. It also portrays negatively several bishops and Catholic commentators and researchers who are opposed to LGBT political aims. The media guide contended that Catholic teaching can be “extremely harmful” to young people who identify as LGBT.

GLAAD said that they would be joined at the White House by Frank DeBernardo, executive director of the dissenting Catholic activist group New Ways Ministry, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, S.L., the organization’s co-founder. The organization was rebuked by the Vatican and the U.S. bishops’ conference for rejecting Catholic teaching.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest, speaking to reporters on Thursday, warned against drawing conclusions about specific attendees “because there will be 15,000 other people there too,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

However, DeBernardo told the Washington Blade Sept. 16 he thought the presence of LGBT Catholics and activists “sends a strong message that LGBT people are a great concern of this administration.”

GLAAD also invited its former intern Nicholas Coppola, who has protested New York’s Diocese of Rockville Centre after he was removed as a catechist when he contracted a same-sex civil marriage.

Mateo Williamson, a past transgender caucus co-chair with the dissenting group Dignity USA will also attend.

The Catholic dissenting groups benefited from a 2014 grant of $200,000 from the Arcus Foundation. The foundation’s grant listing said the funding was “to support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates” ahead of the Synod on the Family.

The foundation is an LGBT advocacy partner of the U.S. State Department’s Global Equality Fund. The foundation’s executive director, Kevin Jennings, is a former Obama administration official. The foundation has dedicated over $2 million to target religious freedom protections in the U.S.

New Ways Ministry and Dignity USA are also involved in a global network of LGBT Catholic activists which


Thursday, September 17th, 2015

by Carl R. Trueman
August 2014
We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs. The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous. The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.

For Christians in the United States, this is particularly disorienting. In Europe, Christianity was pushed to the margins over a couple of centuries—the tide of faith retreated “with tremulous cadence slow.” In America, the process seems to be happening much more rapidly.

It is also being driven by issues that few predicted would have such cultural force. It is surely an irony as unexpected as it is unwelcome that sex—that most private and intimate act—has become the most pressing public policy issue today. (Who could have imagined that policies concerning contraception and laws allowing same-sex marriage would present the most serious challenges to religious freedom?) We are indeed set for exile, though not an exile which pushes us to the geographical margins. It’s an exile to cultural irrelevance.

American Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism start this exile with heavy baggage. Evangelicalism has largely wedded itself to the vision of America as at heart a Christian nation, a conception that goes back to the earliest New England settlers. An advertisement for The American Patriot’s Bible (2009) proudly boasts that it “connects the teachings of the Bible, the history of the United States and the life of every American” while “beautiful full-color insert pages spotlight the people and events that demonstrate the godly qualities that have made America great.” Yet a nation where the language of “choice” and “freedom” has been hijacked for infanticide, the deconstruction of marriage, and a seemingly limitless license to publish pornography is rather obviously not godly. That’s a hard truth for those who believe America belongs to them by right.

For Roman Catholics, the challenges of our cultural exile are different. Rome has somehow managed to maintain a level of social credibility in America, despite holding to positions regarded as intolerable by the wider secular world when held by Protestants. Her refusals to ordain women or sanction the use of contraception do not seem to have destroyed her public reputation. But if, for example, tax-exempt status is revoked for educational and social-service nonprofits opposed to the increasingly mandatory sexual revolution, the Church will face a stark choice: capitulate to the spirit of the age or step out into the cold wasteland of cultural and social marginality. When opposition to gay marriage comes to be seen as the moral equivalent to white supremacism, it is doubtful that the Roman Catholic Church will be able to maintain both her current position on the issue and her status in society. She too will likely be shunted to the margins.

Elsewhere—in France and in Poland, for example—Rome has, of course, proved resilient in much worse circumstances. Yet in America, in recent history, she has no real experience of the ignominy of marginalization from which to draw strength. The Know-Nothing era was long ago. It seems to me most Catholics today are very comfortable in, even jealous of, their place in mainstream America. They may not buy patriot Bibles, but Catholicism’s institutional footprint is so large—and Catholic theological (and emotional) investment in it so significant—that the temptation to preserve the Church’s place in society will be very great. This preservation will require compromise, even complicity, and it will very likely blur the clarity and undermine the integrity of Christian witness.

Perhaps I am mistaken and have portrayed my Christian brothers in a way that over-emphasizes weaknesses and downplays strengths. But of this I am convinced: Reformed Christianity is best equipped to help us in our exile. That faith was forged on the European continent in the lives and writings of such men as Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin. It found its finest expression in the Anglophone world in the great Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritans of the seventeenth century. It possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment. It has a strong tradition of reflecting in depth upon the difference between that which is essential and that which, though good, is inessential and thus dispensable. It has a historical identity rooted in the wider theological teachings of the Church. It has deep resources for thinking clearly about the relationship of Church and state.

It’s not surprising that Reformed Christianity equips us well for exile, because it was itself forged in a time of exile, often by men who were literal exiles. Indeed, the most famous Reformed theologian of them all, John Calvin, was a Frenchman who found fame and influence as a pastor outside his homeland, in the city of Geneva. The Pilgrim fathers of New England knew the realities of exile, and the conditions that it imposed upon the people, only too well. Winthrop’s famous comment about being a city on a hill was not a statement of messianic destiny but a reminder to the colonists of the fact that their lives as exiles were to be lived out in the glare of hostile scrutiny. Exile demanded they have a clear and godly identity.

The Reformed Church has its own baggage, but given the nature of its origins and our own moment, it is the right baggage: light when it needs to be light and heavy with the Gospel when it needs to be heavy. A marginal, minority interest in America for well over a century, she does not face the loss of social influence and political aspirations that now confront Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism. We do not expect to be at the center of worldly affairs. We do not imagine ourselves to be running indispensable institutions. Lack of a major role in the public square will cause no crisis in self-understanding.

This does not arise from indifference or a lack of substance, but instead from clarity and focus. Doctrinally, the Reformed Church affirms the great truths that were defined in the early Church, to which she adds the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone. She cultivates a practical simplicity: Church life centers on the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, prayer, and corporate praise. We do not draw our strength primarily from an institution, but instead from a simple, practical pedagogy of worship: the Bible, expounded week by week in the proclamation of the Word and taught from generation to generation by way of catechisms and devotions around the family dinner table.

What, one may ask, about liturgy? Is the naked Word preached by itself, without the force of an institution to support it, sufficient for nourishing a vibrant Christian faith, particularly in times of difficulty? Is there not an element of corporate performance beyond simply listening to the Word that is vital in shaping our understanding of who we are and of the world in which we live? Every time we switch on the television or go on the Internet, we are bombarded with a myriad of liturgies that exert an arcane power to shape our identities in ways of which we are often unaware. Can a thirty-minute sermon once or twice a week possibly counteract such insidious subversion? Don’t we need ballast to prevent us from being pushed this way and that by every wind of secular doctrine?

Reformed theologians understand this point. James K. A. Smith highlights the liturgical nature of all of life and the need for the Reformed Church to be self-conscious in its own liturgical performance. David F. Wells underscores the need for an intelligent and well-constructed liturgy that reflects our theological convictions. Reformed worship has always involved more than preaching, even though the sermon is central. Its liturgical form flows directly from our commitment to the Word and to the catholic foundations of our faith. The Gospel according to the Reformed faith is straightforward: We are dead in sin and need to be united to Christ, the God-man, who lived and died and rose again for us and for our salvation. United with him, we look beyond the ephemera of this world to the eternity beyond.

Reformed worship places the Word at the center because the declaration of the truth of the Gospel is central. Ideally, this truth shapes the liturgical actions of the Reformed community. For example, in the church service, the minister reads the Decalogue and brings words of judgment down on God’s people, reminding them of their death in Adam. He leads them in a corporate confession of sin and then reads words from Scripture, pointing toward the promise in Christ of comfort, forgiveness, and the final ­resurrection to come. Fall, death, forgiveness, resurrection: The basic elements of the Christian message find concise and precise expression in Reformed liturgical practice.

The congregation responds with a hymn of praise to God for his goodness. Here, the beauty and the distinctiveness of the Reformed faith become evident. The congregation, reminded of who they are—sinners who stand before God condemned for their ­unrighteousness and uncleanness—receive the promise in Christ that, grasped by faith, seals forgiveness upon their hearts and moves them to praise and thanksgiving.

This singular focus—the drama of sin and redemption inwardly known—is a great boon in times of exile. To retain an identity in the face of a hostile culture, one must belong to a vibrant community of people who know who they are. This is the New Testament pattern of Christianity. When we hear, in clear and unequivocal words, who we are declared to us in the sermon each week and when we participate in liturgical action embodying that identity, we are well prepared for the hostile liturgies and gospels of the world we encounter from Monday to Saturday.

We must also have practical confidence in our own identity and destiny as a Christian people. Paul grounds the imperatives of the Christian life, from domestic duties to social and political engagement, in the reality of our life in Christ. There is a robust confidence at the heart of the New Testament’s description of what it means to be a Christian, and it was vital to Christian flourishing in the world of the first century.

It is important to understand that the medieval Church’s failure to produce a theology that instilled this New Testament confidence contributed in significant ways to the Reformation. Luther’s notion of Christian freedom depends upon our clear knowledge of our identity in Christ. The bonds of sin are broken by faith’s secure hold on the truth of the Gospel. The way in which faith gives us a place to stand over and against worldliness was picked up and elaborated by Calvin and other Reformed theologians. The New Testament note of confidence—we really can know and give ourselves to the saving power of Christ—was cultivated by preaching and liturgy. This enabled Protestants to survive and then to thrive in the hostile world of sixteenth-century Europe. Our identity was not mediated by priest or sacrament. Then and today it is grasped by faith in the Word.

Indeed, robust confidence of our life in Christ lies at the heart of what it means to be a Reformed Protestant. The first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the great statements of Reformation faith, express it succinctly:

What is your only comfort in life and death? That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour ­Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yes, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
This robust confidence will serve us well at a time when the indifference or hostility of the world presses upon us and encourages crises of self-confidence. We know who we are. We belong to Christ.

Closely connected to assurance is one of the key theological emphases of the Reformed faith: providence. Many see the Reformed doctrines of predestination and providence as harsh and cold preoccupations of pathologically unhinged people. In fact, they have both a deeply catholic pedigree and a profoundly pastoral purpose.

The doctrines of predestination and providence were not innovations of the Reformation, but have a history through the Middle Ages back to the early Church. Love him or hate him, Augustine provided the West with its basic interpretation of Paul on grace and salvation, and his influence on both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism remains powerful. One could argue that the Reformation was itself a debate over the interpretation and application of Augustine’s theology of grace to reflections on the nature of the Church. Yet even as they drew on Augustine and his medieval followers, Reformed preachers and teachers found the doctrines of predestination and providence helpful for strengthening believers in times of ­difficulty.

For those in physical exile, for those suffering for their faith, for those despised and marginalized by the world around them, the knowledge that history is under God’s control provides encouragement. However weak the Church appears to be, however many setbacks it faces, the end of history is already determined in Christ. This knowledge allows believers to taste here and now something of the delights of the end of time. Indeed, combined with the rich New Testament teaching on resurrection and on the fact that death is not the final word for those who live in Christ by faith, a strong doctrine of providence is not only a means of construing the metaphysical connection between God and his creation, but is also a source of personal strength, comfort, assurance, and hope for Reformed Christians.

Once again, there is a liturgical aspect to this. Providence often leads Christians to dark places, personally and corporately, and yet even as we know that these temporal trials will ultimately culminate in death, we know that in the resurrection light triumphs over darkness, life over death. This is why the Psalter has been so central to Reformed worship. The Psalms’ many notes of lament, of longing for future rest, and of present discomfort and disillusion with the status quo reinforce in the minds of the Reformed that our citizenship is not ultimately in this world. It provides realistic horizons of expectation for this world—and for the next. It gives us a vocabulary with which to praise God in the midst of the contradictions of life lived out under the burdens of the Fall. It reminds us that, whatever good things this world has to offer, they can only be of passing value. And when suffering comes, we acknowledge and sorrow over its reality but regard it as nothing compared to the weight of eternal glory that is to follow. Every time we gather for worship in church or around the family Bible, the very songs of David we sing speak of exile—and of hope for the better country we seek.

This recognition of exile and the hope we find in the Psalms permeate historical Reformed worship and theology in a way that is not so obvious in other Christian traditions, even Protestant ones. For example, the worship of the American Evangelical Church of the last few decades has been marked by what one might call an aesthetic of power and triumph. Praise bands perform in churches often built to look more like concert venues than traditional places of worship. Rock riffs and power chords set the musical tone. Songs speak of tearing down enemy ­strongholds. Christianity does, of course, point to triumph, but it is the triumph of resurrection, and resurrection presupposes prior suffering and death. An emphasis on triumph, often to the exclusion of lament, will not prepare people for life this side of resurrection glory. It will not prepare us for a life of exile. I fear we are laying the foundations for disillusionment and despair.

Christianity needs to be realistic both in its theo­logy and in its liturgy. With the central place it gives to the singing of the Psalter, the Reformed tradition ministers to the hearts and minds of Christians set for cultural exile. The transitions through which we are living are confusing and at times painful. The Psalms offer us a means of expressing that confusion and pain in our praise to God, and no tradition has so placed their corporate use at the heart of its worship as much as the Reformed.

The argument so far has been that Reformed worship can sustain the believer in a time of trial. Yet in the past the Reformed faith has been a dynamic force in the public square. Reformed theology contributed to the rise of the theory of just rebellion, played a role in the English Civil War, inspired the Scottish Covenanters, and gave John Winthrop a vision for building a city on a hill in the New World. The Reformed faith resists being reduced to a type of private pietism. On the contrary, it has often proved a potent social force, even in situations of marginality and exile.

Take John Calvin as an example. His popular image is that of a ruthless Reformed ayatollah who ruled Geneva with a firm, icy hand as he imposed a reign of terror on an unwitting populace. He seems an almost revolutionary figure, a kind of Robespierre in the Reformation. It is true that he spent much of his adult life in Geneva and was very influential in the city. But he was a foreigner, a Frenchman abroad, not even a citizen of Geneva for much of his time. He was never even powerful enough to persuade the magistrates to allow him to celebrate communion on a weekly basis. In short, Calvin was an exile, and he wrote his theology from the perspective of an exile. But this did not prevent him from speaking powerfully into the world where he found himself. Indeed, the condensed concentration of Reformed piety gave him not only an enduring identity in exile, but also firmness of purpose, allowing him to stand with confidence contra mundum, against the world.

Today’s world is becoming a colder, harder place. Even so, we have ongoing civic responsibilities. Shaped by our faith, we too can speak to those in power. We must remind them of their responsibilities to protect the innocent and to punish the wicked. We must remind them of the fact that they, the magistrates, will ultimately answer to a higher authority. It is this consciousness of civic responsibility—and of a firm place to stand in Christ—that frames Calvin’s Institutes and has served to make Reformed Christianity such a powerful force for change in history, from the Puritans to Abraham Kuyper. There have certainly been excesses in the history of the Reformed Church’s engagement with the civic sphere, but Reformed theology at its best is no clarion call for a religious war or a theocratic state. It is rather a call for responsible, godly citizenship.

Here, the Reformed share a great deal of common ground with Roman Catholics. As David VanDrunen has shown, both affirm natural law, a better basis for social thought than the mythological constructions of the American Patriot’s Bible or the belligerent sense of national identity of the old-style religious right. Yet there are differences between the Reformed and Rome. Calvin is no Thomas, and the Reformed faith is not Roman Catholicism. Where Thomas saw sin as exacerbating the limitations of nature in a fallen world, Calvin saw sin as bringing a decisive ethical darkness into the world.

This difference is important and gives Reformed theology a more realistic understanding of Christian life in the public square and thus of the limits to what we might expect to achieve. People do not call evil good and good evil primarily because they are confused or not thinking clearly. They do so because they are in basic rebellion against God. It sounds a tad paradoxical: The Reformed use natural law for public engagement but expect little or no success. We believe that the world was created with a particular moral structure. Yet we also believe that fallen humanity has a fundamental antipathy toward acknowledging any form of external authority that threatens our own ultimate autonomy. This injects a basic irrationality and emotional passion into moral debates. This distortion of conscience and reason explains the apparent impotence of otherwise compelling arguments. And it surely reflects our actual experience as Christians in exile in twenty-first-century America.

Today people describe what was once quite ordinary moral reflection about sex and marriage as a “hate crime.” Do we need firmer evidence that debates about same-sex marriage, as well as abortion and the like, are not reducible to rational discussion? And Reformed theology knows why. Human beings in this fallen world consistently refuse to acknowledge the obvious: that they are creatures of God and thus accountable to him. And thus our moral convictions challenge that most basic belief of the modern world, namely, that the individual is the autonomous measure of all things and accountable to no one. Reformed theology understands this dark fact about our fallen humanity. We do not underestimate the ruthlessness of the opposition. We expect cultural exile. It actually confirms our deepest convictions about the way the world is.

When I first came to America in 1996, I remember sitting in a service in a church where the preacher declared that the tragedy of the town in which he lived was that only one person in two would be in a place of worship that morning. What was a tragedy then would look like a third Great Awakening today. Christianity is moving to the margins of American life, and Christians are heading into cultural exile. The question is: How will we survive? The answer is: as Paul did in the first century. First and foremost, we need the simple proclamation of God’s Word in church week by week, reminding us of our identity in Christ. We need liturgies and worship saturated with that Word. We need engagement with the world consistent with the identity formed in us by a clear and confident faith in that Word. In short, we will survive—indeed, we will thrive—through a vibrant commitment to exactly what the historic Reformed faith has emphasized.

Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.