The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination

The Times Literary Supplement has had a back and forth going on over the subject, originating in the September 23 review of Gary Macy’s book The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination. The review was written by Bernard Hamilton and says:

In this study of the status of women in the Western Church in the period c.400-1200, Gary Macy pays special attention to three groups: the episcopae or episcopiae, the presbyterae and the deaconesses.

There are only two secure references to episcopae (the female form of episcopus/bishop): a tomb inscription dating from c.300-600 commemorates “the venerable woman, episcopa Q”; Canon 14 of the Council of Tours of 567 enacts that “No crowd of women should follow a bishop who does not have an episcopia”; and a mosaic portrait of 817 in the San Zeno chapel at Santa Prassede in Rome is captioned Theodora episcopa, identified in an inscription as the mother of Pope Paschal I (817-24). The status of “Q” and of Theodora remains enigmatic, but Macey argues that the episcopiae mentioned by the Council of Tours were the wives of bishops who, with their husbands, had taken vows of celibacy while continuing to live together. Macey thinks that the same is true of presbyterae (the female form of presbyter): that they were priests’ wives who, with their husbands, had vowed to live together in continence. The evidence about deaconesses is unambiguous. Canon 15 of the Council of Chalcedon states: “A deaconess shall not be ordained until she is forty years old. If, having received the laying-on of hands, and having spent some time in her ministry she then marries, scorning the grace of God, she shall be anathematized together with her husband”. Dea- conesses had some limited liturgical functions, but their most important work seems to have been to instruct women in the faith.

Macey points out that in the early medieval West, the term ordinare was used in its classical sense, meaning to institute someone in office, and stresses that in some pontificals it was used to designate a wide variety of ministries.

In addition to doorkeepers, lectors, exorcists, acolytes, subdeacons, deacons and priests, all of whom served the altar, emperors and empresses, kings and queens, abbots, abbesses and deaconesses were also described as ordained.

The ministries exercised by ordained women in the early Middle Ages are unlikely to seem very attractive to the modern proponents of women’s ordination, since there is no evidence that any of those women could celebrate the Eucharist or exercise other priestly functions – with one exception. Abbesses, and abbots who were not in priest’s orders, could hear the confessions of members of their communities. This monastic tradition of spiritual direction survived in the Western Church until the twelfth century, when it was assimilated to the sacrament of penance and reserved to priests. Macey argues that although the ministries that ordained women performed were different from those of the clergy who served the altar, deaconesses, abbesses (and, presumably, queens and empresses) enjoyed parity of status with the ordained male clergy.

After c.1050, the papally led reform movement was concerned to enforce clerical celibacy and to suppress simony in order to free the Church from the control of the lay nobility. This affected women because when clerical marriage was made illegal, clergy wives ceased to exist in the Latin Church. Deaconesses, widely regarded as being identical with abbesses, continued to be ordained, until the revival of the study of Aristotelian logic and of canon law in the Western schools led educated churchmen to develop a precise technical vocabulary: one consequence of this was that the term ordinatio became reserved for the clergy who served the altar, while the rites for instituting abbots and abbesses, deaconesses, kings and queens, emperors and empresses were described as blessings (benedictiones).

Macey argues that this change of name was very important, because ordination then ceased to mean institution in office and came to mean the conferring of spiritual powers. I am not convinced that any significant change occurred, since the ordination rituals had always emphasized that powers were granted to the candidates commensurate with their ministries, and those liturgies did not change significantly in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Indeed, the form for the blessing of an abbess contained in the Rituale Romanum of Clement VIII (1592-1605) directs that the can- didate should kneel before the bishop and say: “I [N], of the monastery of [N], who am about to be ordained abbess [ordinanda abbatissa] promise obedience to … “. The content of that rite had not changed: only its name.

Having restricted the use of the term ordination, theologians stated that women could not be ordained, because they had never held the offices described by the new definition of the word. Gary Macey argues that this ruling reflected the widely held view that women were inferior to men, but although some churchmen did hold that opinion, women did not occupy an inferior position in the Church after 1200.

The exponential growth of the cult of the Virgin Mary during the central Middle Ages, which emphasized that a woman had a central role in the divine economy of grace, had practical consequences, such as the foundation of the Order of Fontevrault, made up of double monasteries of monks and nuns, in which authority was vested in the abbess. Moreover, the church authorities recognized the prophetic office of a number of spiritually gifted women, such as Hildegard of Bingen, Elizabeth of Schonau, Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Julian of Norwich, who exercised considerable influence. Although women religious no longer had ordained status, they all continued to enjoy a privileged clerical status: they, together with their often considerable estates, were exempt from secular jurisdiction and subject to the church courts alone.

This review prompted several letters to the editor, first one by Gary Macy himself:

Central to the argument of the book is that the definition of ordination changed radically in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, creating a new church organization centred on the priesthood and its power to consecrate the bread and wine. Before that shift, ordination was, as Hamilton points out, the institution of someone in a particular office, not the granting of a personal power. Ordained ministries other than the priesthood, therefore, could and did celebrate sacramental rites, including the Eucharist. Some of these were women. Professor Hamilton reads the book as if the only group capable of celebrating the Eucharist during this period were priests. This error results in other misrepresentations.

When Hamilton asserts, “there is no evidence that any of these women could celebrate the Eucharist or exercise other priestly functions – with one exception”, he ignores my lengthy discussion of a number of sources that do claim that women served at the altar. From the fourth to the twelfth centuries, a series of laws forbidding bishops to continue to allow women to serve at the altar, hagiographical stories of abbesses who led liturgies, and survival of communion services performed by women suggest that two groups of women led liturgies: women who served with their husbands in the liturgies, and abbesses who performed sacramental functions for communities and for the surrounding villages. Given this evidence, Hamilton is again incorrect when he states that I argue ” that … the ministries that ordained women performed were different from those of the clergy who served at the altar”. They were often the same.

Hamilton rejects the argument that any substantial change in the role of women took place with the changing definition of ordination. His evidence is that the rituals for abbesses did not change. This example strikes to the heart of the argument of the book: that the change in the definition of ordination would necessarily change the meaning of the ritual even if the words remained the same. As I point out, the ritual for the ordination of a woman deacon or an abbess before the twelfth century was a true ordination to a clerical state that allowed them to exercise sacramental functions. The same ritual by the thirteenth century bestowed no ordination at all and did not give them sacramental functions.

Furthermore, the ordination ritual for women deacons was completely removed from the papal pontifical in the thirteenth century and no longer practised.

Finally, Professor Hamilton asserts that “women did not occupy an inferior position in the church after 1200”. He cites a growing devotion to the Virgin, the influence of certain powerful religious women, and the use of clerical courts by women religious. Again, this ignores significant evidence. By the thirteenth century, for example, in law, the testimony of women was disallowed because of their weak minds. In theology, women’s “matter” was incapable of receiving ordination because they were not the direct images of God that men were. In sum, before the thirteenth century religious women could be, and sometimes were, considered the intellectual, ministerial and legal equals of men partly at least because they could be ordained. That equality was impossible by the thirteenth century.

I should add that Gary Macey did not write this book. Gary Macy did. This may be a small point, but it is indicative of the lack of attention to detail prevalent throughout the review.

This was followed by a letter from John Wijngaards, a noted heterodox teacher on the subject:

Sir, – It would not surprise me if many readers of the TLS are left confused by the discussion between Bernard Hamil- ton, reviewer of The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination, and Gary Macy, its author (Letters, October 21). A wider view might be helpful.

The discussion is not about the East. In the Byzantine Church, part of the Catholic Church until 1054, women were sacramentally ordained deacons, just as the men were. We know the exact ordination rites used. Women deacons instructed catechumens, assisted at baptisms, took communion to the sick, and administered the last rites. Ecclesiastical legislation such as that under Emperor Justinian gave them full clerical status like their male colleagues. Not so in the West.

Apart from some exceptions, massive prejudice based on Roman culture effectively barred women from any ministry. Women could not hold public office. Women were declared intellectually inferior. They were not allowed to enter the sanctuary for fear of polluting its space by menstruation.

They were forbidden to sing in church choirs. These prejudices voiced by the Fathers of the Church and endorsed in local synods entered the Decree of Gratian in 1140 and then became part of the Corpus Iuris Canonici. Until 1916 this

Church Law stated that women were not created in the image of God. It also forbade women to touch sacred vessels, read or preach in church or be members of pious associations. To claim that women “did not occupy an inferior posi-tion in the Church” as Hamilton does, simply beggars belief.

Gary Macy is a brave man to document the exceptions. Perhaps, here and there, he overstates his case. Evidence seems to indicate, for instance, that the Latin ordination rite for women deacons had already eroded by the eighth century. And abbesses who were ordained Sacerdos Maxima or Sacerdos Magna, while enjoying jurisdiction in the administration of parishes and even in forgiving sins, could not preside over the Eucharist. But that does not disprove the value of his book. While studying women’s involvement in the Western Church, I found that valuable testimonies have often been ignored, dismissed or even maliciously suppressed. The real complex truth needs to be fully uncovered.

And another letter from Bernard Hamilton:

Sir, – I read Gary Macy’s book with great attention, as I would any book which I was reviewing. The conclusions I reached are based on the detailed examples which he cites and I see no reason to modify them. I do not consider that the evidence which Macy produces is strong enough to support the case about the role of women in the early medieval Western Church which he wishes to make. I also consider that his description of the place of women in the Church in the later Middle Ages is highly misleading because it is based on a very selective range of sources.

I do, though, apologize unreservedly to Gary Macy for spelling his name wrongly.

Finally, a letter from R.I. Moore:

Sir, – It’s a bit rich of Bernard Hamilton to accuse Gary Macy of undue selectivity (Letters, October 28). The last para- graph of Hamilton’s review (September 23) offers the foundation of Fontevraud in 1100, housing both women and men, as an example of the improved status he claims the Church offered to women in the high Middle Ages. He might have added that several other of the religious orders that appeared around that time placed men and women on an equal footing, including most spectacularly the Premonstratensians.

But from the 1130s they were the objects of a strong reaction, led by those prominent champions of mariolatry, the Cistercians.

Fontevraud was too well connected to be affected, but elsewhere the women were removed from most of the double houses to ill-endowed “sister” foundations, most of which soon withered away. Many men and women, thinking this contrary to the apostolic ideal of their founders, took voluntarily or involuntarily to the roads, and were from the 1140s demonized as heretics and ruthlessly persecuted. Since theirs are among the valuable testimonies to which John Wijngaards refers that have been “ignored, dismissed or even maliciously suppressed” (Letters, October 28), we know little about them. But there is enough to justify a strong suspicion that they held just the views on women’s capacity to administer the sacraments that Macy suggests, and quite enough to confirm that Macy’s, not Hamilton’s, view of the direction in which the Church’s treatment of women was changing is correct.

Lots to chew on here.

The Anglican Autumn

2011 saw the collapse of governments across the Middle East in a broad move later dubbed the Arab Spring. A major catalyst for this implosion was the strength of people connecting on the internet through Twitter, Facebook and blogs. The medium of the internet exposed these governments to scrutiny that had not previously existed. Leaders who were used to acting with impunity were suddenly exposed to a very public check on their power, and they did not respond well.

Former Anglican Archbishop Moses Tay remarked on this upheaval during the AMiA Winter Conference, where he said: “Global shaking [was] affecting the church as well. We had a year of global shaking in the Middle East and everywhere else and here we have the church being shaken as well.” Indeed, a distinctively Anglican social media, born during the initial struggles with TEC, gained its sea legs during the Fall of 2011 in what we might call the Anglican Autumn.

Strong Men Can No Longer Work in Secret

Time magazine named “The Protestor” as its person of the year for 2011. Protests across the globe were fueled by news on Twitter, Facebook feeds, YouTube clips gone viral and the grandfather of social media – blogs. The leveling force of the internet means that individuals can compete in many ways with the ossified media strategies of governments. The ubiquity of social media provides for transparency and open debate. Rather than approved messages flowing down from the top of the organizational pyramid, anyone with a cell phone and an internet connection can shoot video, record audio, and type out their own take on events.
The asymmetric nature of communication means that President and Generals are more exposed to scrutiny than they were previously. In the past, the Watergate scandal was unfolded primarily through the vehicle of two reporters and an informant. Now, news can come from anywhere, through any channel, and is quickly picked up by an international social network. This can be good and bad, as we are more exposed to raw data, opinion, and sometimes wrong information in the fog of war. The editorial functions exercised by the old media are not in place, which can be a two-edged sword.
This social media revolution has precedents in the Reformation and the invention of the printing press. The Economist outlined these parallels in a December article:

The media environment that Luther had shown himself so adept at managing had much in common with today’s online ecosystem of blogs, social networks and discussion threads. It was a decentralised system whose participants took care of distribution, deciding collectively which messages to amplify through sharing and recommendation. Modern media theorists refer to participants in such systems as a “networked public”, rather than an “audience”, since they do more than just consume information. Luther would pass the text of a new pamphlet to a friendly printer (no money changed hands) and then wait for it to ripple through the network of printing centres across Germany.

Being able to follow and discuss such back-and-forth exchanges of views, in which each author quoted his opponent’s words in order to dispute them, gave people a thrilling and unprecedented sense of participation in a vast, distributed debate. Arguments in their own social circles about the merits of Luther’s views could be seen as part of a far wider discourse, both spoken and printed. Many pamphlets called upon the reader to discuss their contents with others and read them aloud to the illiterate. People read and discussed pamphlets at home with their families, in groups with their friends, and in inns and taverns. Luther’s pamphlets were read out at spinning bees in Saxony and in bakeries in Tyrol. In some cases entire guilds of weavers or leather-workers in particular towns declared themselves supporters of the Reformation, indicating that Luther’s ideas were being propagated in the workplace. One observer remarked in 1523 that better sermons could be heard in the inns of Ulm than in its churches, and in Basel in 1524 there were complaints about people preaching from books and pamphlets in the town’s taverns. Contributors to the debate ranged from the English king Henry VIII, whose treatise attacking Luther (co-written with Thomas More) earned him the title “Defender of the Faith” from the pope, to Hans Sachs, a shoemaker from Nuremberg who wrote a series of hugely popular songs in support of Luther.

Predictably, those in power in Luther’s day were not impressed with this new technology:

“Idle chatter and inappropriate books” were corrupting the people, fretted one bishop. “Daily there is a veritable downpour of Lutheran tracts in German and Latin…nothing is sold here except the tracts of Luther,” lamented Aleander, Leo X’s envoy to Germany, in 1521. Most of the 60 or so clerics who rallied to the pope’s defence did so in academic and impenetrable Latin, the traditional language of theology, rather than in German. Where Luther’s works spread like wildfire, their pamphlets fizzled. Attempts at censorship failed, too. Printers in Leipzig were banned from publishing or selling anything by Luther or his allies, but material printed elsewhere still flowed into the city.

The Anglican Autumn and the New Media

Bishop Chuck Murphy and others had come up with the idea of a Missionary Society working inside and outside the United States. For unknown reasons, an attempt was made to keep all discussion of this concept in-house, away from any public scrutiny. We are told that Murphy asked bishops “Rwaje and Mbanda [to] keep the concept confidential until he has discussed it with his colleagues in the States.”

When word of the proposal finally made its way to the internet via AnglicanTV, confusion erupted. The public relations strategy used by the Anglican Mission was alternately to attack the messengers or ‘the internet’ more broadly. During the Winter Conference, Bishop Murphy expressed that he had been taken aback by the furor on the internet claiming to have “been chopped up royally in recent months.” And yet, he did not address the substance of the arguments, but rather attacked blogs and the internet in a general way. He even used leaks to the press as a reason that he had to resign.
Susan Sontag wrote an essay about Abu Ghraib in which she talked about blaming the pictures rather than blaming the actions of people. It is similar to an abusive husband being angry because his behavior has been exposed rather than the fact that he sinned. The internet, blogs and YouTube are tools that can be used for good or ill. It is the substance that they carry that is wrong or right, not the tools themselves. Murphy’s attacks on the internet perhaps reflect the bemused nature of an older generation at the media revolution occurring all around them.
The Washington Statement asked for this discussion to come into the light:

We desire to walk in the light by bringing the ongoing conversation into the light. Our purpose in writing this document is to speak the truth in love, in hopes of fostering  honest and open dialogue together, for the sake of our shared Gospel mission to North America. We have been greatly blessed by, and are indebted to, the AMiA and her  leadership, and our hope is to see this mission continue as our Lord leads.

This didn’t happen until after the AMiA had separated from Rwanda. The proposal finally appeared in the London Communique, after the frenzy of meetings and letters had occurred. In retrospect, the entire proposal could have been laid out for the world to see, for clergy and laity to reflect on, and for the Rwandan bishops and GAFCON to mull over.
The lesson for AMiA, Rwanda, the ACNA, GAFCON and the wider church world is that transparency is generally a necessity. The best way to avoid internet wars is to value openness in the first place. Share the most information possible at the earliest possible time. Respond to questions with candor and don’t blame the internet for your problems.

The Book of Mormon as Automatic Writing

In his essay, Automaticity and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon, (available here) Scott C. Dunn argues that the Book of Mormon (BOM) is the product of automatic writing. He begins with the example of Helen Cohn Schucman and her three volume “A Course in Miracles” dictated to her by “by an inner voice that identified itself as Jesus Christ.”

His second example is Jane Roberts who “conducted experiments” with the occult “which soon led her into contact with “Seth,” a discarnate personality who spoke through the medium of Roberts’s mind and voice. In these sessions, Roberts lapsed into a trance while Seth lectured on complex philosophical and metaphysical subjects beyond the educational experience of Jane Roberts herself.” He also mentions Levi H. Dowling, author of The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ.

For the purpose of his essay, Dunn defines “automatic writing” as “the ability to write or dictate text in a relatively rapid, seemingly effortless and fluent manner with no sense of control over the content. Indeed, except for sometimes knowing a word or two moments in advance of writing and speaking, the individual is typically not consciously aware of what the content of the writing will be.”

Dunn mentions channeled texts such as the Oahspe by dentist John Newbrough “who claimed that the book’s angelic spirit authors controlled his hands on the typewriter each morning for fifty weeks.”

Aleister Crowley wrote The Holy Books of Thelema under the influence of something he called his Guardian Angel. He said of his prose, “It is characterized by a sustained sublimity of which I am totally incapable and it overrides all the intellectual objectives which I should myself have raised.”

How about someone a bit tamer? Dunn brings up Charlotte Bronte who “is said to have written her masterpieces Villette and Jane Eyre at a constant rate with her eyes shut. Dunn writes:

Calling her a “trance-writer,” critics Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar quote entries from the author’s journal that describe her visionary experiences and moments of “divine leisure” in which “the stream of thought…came flowing free & calm along its channel.” Similarly, the English poet A.E. Housman once noted that entire stanzas of poetry would come into his mind all at once. More on the mystical side is the visionary William Blake, who claimed that his lengthy poem Jerusalem was “dictated” to him.

Anyone familiar with Joseph Smith can see where this is going. 

Dunn continues examining the various forms that automatic writing have taken over the years. He multiplies examples, many of which have obvious parallels with Joseph Smith. One obvious parallel are people who use scrying stones:

In such instances, the individual may experience some sort of vision while the hand writes. Typically, the text reports what was seen in the vision, but in some cases, the stone-gazer sees written words […] One psychologist reports that a young boy dictated a fantastic adventure story, which he saw enacted in the crystal while his hand wrote automatically at the same time.

Dunn cites studies suggesting that automatic writing may be a product of “the unconscious mind.” He also spends a good deal of time discussing Pearl Curran who experimented with an ouija board and produced the writings of one ‘Patience Worth.” Curran’s writings, like Joseph Smith’s, exhibited skills she should not have had, in her case it was the appearance of a massive number of Anglo-Saxon words, “proof” of their ancient nature. One scholar cited by Dunn calls these works a “philological miracle.” Dunn also says:

Another startling thing about the works attributed to Patience Worth is their accuracy on factual details that Curran apparently could not have known, a defense often applied to writings given through Joseph Smith […]

Dunn says, “Pearl Curran is like Joseph Smith in still another way: for both, available evidence militates against  the likelihood of conscious fraud.” Dunn then outlines evidence for the BOM being a product of automatic writing:

…the content of automatic writing is often similar to that of the Book of Mormon: Examples include multiple authorship, use of archaic language, accounts of bygone historical figures, accurate descriptions of times and places apparently unfamiliar to the writer, narratives with well-developed characters and plot, accounts of various ministries of Jesus Christ, poetics, occasionally impressive literary quality, doctrinal, theological, and cosmological discussions, and even discourses by a deity. […]

In addition, the bulk of the Book of Mormon, dictated after Oliver Cowdery became Smith’s scribe, was completed in approximately ninety days. This represents fairly rapid work for a book of this length-588 typeset pages in the first edition-even if the translation progressed will every day. Again, the speed and ease with which Smith worked is characteristic of automatic writing.

Dunn mentions that Smith “pronounced the words of the text with his face buried in a hat, looking at a seer stone” and concludes that “This certainly implies a relatively effortless or automatic process. Moreover, this use of a crystal or stone is a well-known method of producing automatic writing.”

Smith had time to think through themes for the BOM before he launched his project, but Dunn says this isn’t unusual for automatic writing:

Before producing Oahspe, John Newbrough was visited by its angelic authors, asked if he would “perform a mission for Jehovih,” and was told to prepare for this experience…Finally, ten years after the first visitation, the angels told him to proceed with the automatic typing of their work.

Dunn brings up one critic, the ever-present Blake Ostler, and writes:

Blake Ostler has put forth what is essentially an automatic writing model, though he is reluctant to call it that. He states that Smith’s “state of consciousness differs from…most reports of automatic writing in that he did not lose consciousness of his surroundings or become dispossessed of his personal identity,” apparently unaware that the same is true of A Course in Miracles and all of the Patience Worth literature. “Further,” Ostler continues, “there is no evidence that [Smith] claimed to hear a voice or take dictation from another personality, unlike cases of spirit writing or channeled text.” But this also applies to such dramatic instances of automatic writing as The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ and The White Goddess. In spite of his attempts to distance Smith from these works, nothing in Ostler’s characterization of the translation process is inconsistent with the best-documented instances of the this phenomenon.

One well-known feature of the Book of Mormon (BOM) is its reliance on the Authorized version of the Bible. I have often wondered if Smith just pulled out the Bible and dictated these sections of the BOM from it, but Dunn addresses how these sections might have happened under an automatic writing model:

Just as individuals under hypnosis have been able to quote lengthy passages in foreign languages which they heard at the age of three, so have automatic writers produced detailed information from books that they have read but in some cases cannot remember reading. Thus, if Smith’s scriptural productions borrowed material from the Bible, this is entirely consistent with other instances of automatic writing. This quirk of memory, known as cryptomnesia, may also explain the presence of styles and literary patterns that are found both in the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

Another common question is how Smith addressed the origin of Indians and certain theological concepts of his day in such detail if he didn’t have access to the texts current in his day? Dunn says:

But automatic writing renders such a question irrelevant. Automatic texts often contain information available to the writer in the most obscure manner imaginable. One researcher described a woman who, with a ouija board, produced automatic writing that recounted “almost exactly” the death notices in an available newspaper. Although the woman apparently had not read these obituaries, she had done the crossword puzzle found on the same page in the newspaper. It seems that her mind had picked up and stored material that was in her field of vision as she worked the crossword puzzle; she had unconsciously read and unconsciously written information of which her conscious mind was entirely unaware. Interestingly, the researcher further reported that the writing contained information to which the woman had no access whatsoever. It should not be surprising, therefore, to find Smith’s scriptural productions repeating things he may have heard or overheard in conversation, camp meetings, or other settings without any concerted study of the issues.

Dunn ends his fascinating essay with a series of questions about what makes scripture into scripture? He really doesn’t have an answer. The test should clearly be doctrinal fidelity with previous Scripture, namely the Old and New Testaments. He doesn’t pose this as a test, but he should have.

I believe Dunn’s proposal to be the best explanation for the authoring of the BOM. Other explanations are a bit rag-tag in proposing dependence on this or that text, or the penmanship of Cowdrey or Rigdon. What he fails to consider is the possibility of demonic influence/dictation. Perhaps automatic writing is a combination of the subconscious with demonic guidance. I have addressed this before in relation to Socrates, who claimed demonic inspiration. Socrates said:

There is something spiritual which, by a divine dispensation, has accompanied me from my childhood up. It is a voice that, when it occurs, always indicates to me a prohibition of something I may be about to do, but never urges me on to anything ; and if one of my friends consults me and the voice occurs, the same thing happens : it prohibits, and does not allow him to act. And I will produce witnesses to convince you of these facts.

As the Apostle Paul warned us, even an angel from heaven might appear bearing a false gospel.

Vladislav Surkov

The latest issue of the London Review of Books has a fascinating article on someone I had never heard of, but who is a power behind the throne in Russia, his name is Vladislav Surkov. Apparently he wrote a novel called Almost Zero under the pen name of Natan Dubovitsky. The LRB says:

The novel is a satire of contemporary Russia whose hero, Egor, is a corrupt PR man happy to serve anyone who’ll pay the rent. A former publisher of avant-garde poetry, he now buys texts from impoverished underground writers, then sells the rights to rich bureaucrats and gangsters with artistic ambitions who publish them under their own names. The world of PR and publishing as portrayed in the novel is extremely dangerous. Publishing houses have their own gangs, whose members shoot each other over the rights to Nabokov and Pushkin, and the secret services infiltrate them for their own murky ends. It’s exactly the sort of book Surkov’s youth groups burn on Red Square.

The article outlines his early life:

In the 1980s and early 1990s Russia was experimenting with different modes at a dizzying rate: Soviet stagnation led to perestroika, which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, liberal euphoria, then economic disaster. How to believe in anything when everything around you is changing so fast? Surkov abandoned a range of university careers from metallurgy to theatre directing, put in a spell in the army, went to bohemian parties, had regular violent altercations (he was expelled from drama school for fighting). Surkov, it said (or allegedly said) in one of the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, had always thought of himself as an unrecognised genius, but it took him a while to find his metier.

He trained at a martial arts club with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then one of Russia’s emerging young business stars. Khodorkovsky took him on as a bodyguard, saw he had more use for his brains than his muscles and promoted him to PR manager. He became known for his ability not only to think up ingenious PR campaigns but to manipulate others into getting them distributed in the major media with a mixture of charm, aggression and bribery. ‘Surkov acts like a Chekist of the 1920s and 1930s,’ Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst, said. ‘He can always sniff out your weak spot.’ Top jobs followed at banks and TV channels. In 1999 he was invited to join Yeltsin’s presidential administration. Looking more like a designer than a bureaucrat, he stood out from the rest. He was one of the key spin doctors behind the promotion of Putin for president in 2000. Since then, while many of his colleagues have fallen from grace, Surkov has managed to stay in the game by remaking himself to suit his masters’ needs. ‘Slava is a vessel,’ according to Boris Nemtsov, a prominent opposition politician: ‘Under Yeltsin he was a democrat, under Putin he’s an autocrat.’

The Origins of Women’s Ordination in the Episcopal Church

So how did it all begin? Without going into great detail, we can look at the seventies and the illegal ordinations that happened at that time. The heretic James Pike had previously ordained a woman to the diaconate, but the ball really got rolling in 1974.

In the book “Anglican Communion in Crisis”, Miranda Hassett writes:

…women deputies were not accepted by General Convention until 1967. By this time the controversial liberal bishop James Pike had already ordained a woman as a deacon, an ordained role oriented toward service and without all the sacramental duties of the priesthood. With the encouragement of the women’s movement in the larger society, other breakthroughs followed quickly. The General Convention of 1970 accepted female deacons, and the 1976 Convention admitted women to the priesthood, following the unauthorized 1974 ordinations of eleven women as priests. The first Episcopal woman bishop, Barbara Harris, was consecrated in 1989.

In “A Brief History of the Episcopal Church”, David Lynn Holmes writes:

Nevertheless, in the summer of 1974, in Philadelphia’s Church of the Advocate, eleven women deacons were ordained to the priesthood by three Episcopal bishops. Two of the bishops were retired; the third had resigned as bishop of Pennsylvania earlier in the year. Neither the bishops, nor the deacons, nor the parish had authorization for the ordinations. In an emergency session, the House of Bishops declared the ordinations invalid and rebuked the ordainers.” (page 168)

Time magazine has articles on these ordinations here, here and here. And now, a mere three decades later, “conservatives” all over the place accept this practice, foisted upon the church by radicals and heretics, as perfectly fine and normal.

The Regulative Principle Redefined

I finished up Leithart’s From Silence to Song yesterday and found his writing illuminating as always. He discusses the Reformed “Regulative Principle” and recasts it in a very different light (a much better one). The Regulative Principle is usually held to mean that anything God hasn’t expressly commanded in worship is forbidden, you’ll often see it trumpeted in modern times by nuts like the Still Waters Revival folks who hold to no instruments in music and exclusive Psalmody.

Leithart contrasts this with the canonical example of David’s instructions for Temple and Tabernacle worship. He writes:

A strict regulativist living at the time of David would syllogize thus:

Major premise: Whatever is not commanded is forbidden.

Minor premise: Singing is not commanded in the Levitical Law.

Conclusion: Therefore, singing in worship is forbidden.

David appears to have reasoned by analogy:

Major premise: The Law governs worship.

Minor premise #1: The Law prescribes that trumpets be played over the public ascensions, in public worship.

Minor premise #2: The trumpet is a musical instrument.

Conclusion: Analogously, song and other music are a legitimate part of worship.

In place of a “regulation-by-explicit command” principle, David operated according to a “regulation-by-analogy” principle.

He qualifies this by showing that not all analogies are valid – pigs can’t be offered in sacrifice because cows are, so Scripture controls the application. Once again, Leithart’s writings are some of the best theological insights you can find today on a host of subjects.

U2 and Lenin’s Favorite Songs

I thought I should record this on the internet since I spent some time finding it. The fanfare/intro to the U2 song, “Daddy’s Gonna Pay for your Crashed Car” (on Zooropa) is from a song called “Le Rocher Sur La Volga.” The version U2 used was from a record called Lenin’s Favourite Songs. Other versions are our there. You’re welcome internet.

Thoughts on C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries

For once in my life, my wife trumped me in the news department. She mentioned casually to me a few nights ago that C.J. Mahaney was stepping down from his position at Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). “What?” I was floored and had to immediately navigate over to the SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge blogs to figure out what was happening.When I read C.J.’s statement, my first impression was that he is doing the right thing and his head seems to be in the right place. I don’t like the model of getting a group of celebrity advisers to minister to me as part of my eventual return to ministry (see Jim Baker, Ted Haggard and Todd Bentley among others); however, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. In my opinion, guys who have serious issues would be better served to completely die to self and disappear into anonymity for the rest of their lives. It would be nice to try to figure out “whatever happened to that Mahaney guy” ten years from now – then you would really know that change occurred. But I am getting sidetracked…

So I clicked back to the SGM Survivors blog and saw a link to this document drop on Scribd. I started reading “The Untold Story” and my whole view of the situation changed. These files exhaustively document many of the inner struggles of the leadership of SGM. There is not financial impropriety, adultery or other sensational sin, but there is what I would call cunning, flattery, anger, bitterness, disengenousness or dishonesty and a pattern (that I have heard of before) of people being moved out or cut off when they don’t toe the party line. There is more than that, but that’s my high-level view of things. I would also say that there is excessive introspection to an amazing degree, but that is to be expected given the “cross-centered” theology that SGM has wrapped itself around the axle on over this past decade or so.

So why does it matter? Do these kinds of character faults, grievances and betrayals disqualify anyone from leadership or constitute serious sin? I haven’t waded through all of the documents yet, but I think they do. We are told that overseers are to be “sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable…not quarrelsome..He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered…” The emails suggest a level of over-sensitivity and soft revenge that are not in keeping with a pastor (or bishop, as CJ really is).

My observation of SGM over the years and what I’ve heard from insiders have raised the following concerns:

  • Acting like clones. From shaved heads to speech inflections and cadence, the pastors at various SGM churches sound very much like CJ. Folks in the movement tend to use the same terms like affection, passion, serve and appropriate. One example of this is from the document “A Final Appeal” that quotes CJ in an October, 2005 email to Brent Detwiler saying, “From the first e-mail I have informed Pat about my support but in his desire to serve me he has continued to pursue this” and “I will be glad to explain my perspective on this if that would serve you.” The verb “serve” is something that you hear constantly from SGM folks and if you pay attention, it becomes like an in-group code word. Christians need to be real, living in the real world with the transforming grace of the gospel, but also without falling into systems of jargon, denial, happy talk and sectarianism. When talking to another Christian, I want to be able to honestly discuss life without having to use phrases that end up meaning nothing because they are so overused.
  • The gradual removal or “un-friending” of people who don’t toe the line theologically. Someone described this to me as “a hang-over from the charismatic shepherding movement, though in a less overtly authoritarian modality, a sort of soft-despotism” and I think that is an accurate description of what you read in Detwiler’s documents.
    I’ve heard stories over the years including a guy who was on the inside at Covenant Life and whose WIFE had a theological view that was considered aberrant. This was enough to begin the gradual removal of the man from the inner circle and he eventually resigned his position. I grant that it can be hard to maintain friendships with people who have theological convictions different from our own, but a real love towards them should make it possible to continue in relationship, and not ice them out due to a Stepford wives type of conformity. Further, if we believe in the catholicity of the Church at all, it demands that we learn how to accept some degree of doctrinal variance within local churches. Someone I know was essentially asked to leave the church due to hesitation over the excessive demands for self-disclosure at small group. Add to this the many “de-giftings” where pastors are suddenly removed from their position with little or no explanation given to the congregation.
  • Institutional arrogance / lack of Catholicity. Jesus said in John 17, “that I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” The exact implication of what this verse demands are of course debated, but the failure to listen to warnings to change on the part of SGM sets a bad precedent. The SGM practice of rebaptism for people baptized as infants is a grievous affront to the catholicity of the Church.
    I question why SGM cannot merge or cross-pollinate with groups like Acts 29, the Grace Network, and others. Does it really require a SGM church in every city, even if there is already a strong Calvinist and/or Reformed Baptist presence? (I’m looking at you Fredericksburg).
  • A flawed polity. As I mentioned several months ago, SGM’s structure of church governance is skewed. It is similar to Calvary Chapel, where the pastor is Moses to his congregation and Chuck Smith is the Pope. The emails do show that CJ is treated akin to the Pope of SGM. He functions as an Archbishop, but without the time-honored constraints of a true Episcopalian system (vestry, church courts, and so forth). In the emails, leadership group members don’t want to be the one to confront him or deliver bad tidings to him. Local pastors are removed from on-high with no explanation. Systems of government do not solve problems, bad people can be in any system, but they can make it easier to correct problems.
  • Morbid introspection and an incorrect understanding of “the Gospel.” Someone I know put it better than I can: “SGM deemphasizes the resurrection and overemphasizes introspection and “the cross”, which becomes morbid; they also decidedly deemphasize bible study; their view of culture is truncated as is their view of the Gospel: “Jesus died for my sins” v. “The good news is that the King has come in the person and work of Jesus Christ.”
    This introspection is constant in these documents and in the lives of SGM churches. Every motive must be scrutinized at absurd lengths and a neo-Puritan desire to constantly work into emotional distress over being the chief of sinners and returning to the cross is modeled from on high. A view of glorification and Christian maturity give way to prob- ing motives for pride, no matter what we do. SGM does not see the Gospel as the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus and union with Him (a more Calvinist approach), rather, it is simply imputation, which seems to be the hill that SGM always wants to die on.

With all of this said, these men are brothers in Christ. They have produced good fruit in many lives (as well as bad fruit in others). Sometimes we can wonder how it is possible to read a book on humility and be changed for the better by it when the book is written by a guy struggling with just that issue? But God seems to work like this (we aren’t Donatists). We can receive good things even through flawed vehicles because Christ is at work in all. This cannot, however, become an excuse to allow these men to continue in their sins, be leaders for life, or be above the law somehow.

One possible response from SGM leaders is that people shouldn’t read these documents or they are gossiping. They may blame the internet for their problems. Susan Sontag wrote an essay about Abu Ghraib in which she talked about blaming the *pictures* rather than blaming the *actions*. It is similar to an abusive husband being angry because his behavior has been exposed rather than the fact that he sinned. In this case, C.J. Mahaney is an extraordinarily public figure who has brought attention on himself due to his increasingly high profile over the past decades. He writes books, speaks at conferences and leads a denomination. His activities can be scrutinized and public records (such as Detwiler’s) can be read. We don’t have to ignore the elephant in the room and play a pietistic game of pretend. I believe SGM needs deep reform in many areas, but it will be hard to change what has become an institutionalized culture of conformity to patterns of thought, speech, appearance, and behavior that most of the pastors have been steeped in for their entire professional lives.

The End this Isn’t

Events like last week’s tsunami often spur on premillenial believers who think that things have never been this bad before and that the end is in sight. This is not new. James Moorhead mentions an encounter that Robert Willett had back in World War I:

he encountered an energetic man who explained that Kaiser Wilhelm was the beast described in the thirteenth chapter of Revelation and that Jesus would appear within months to “rapture” the saints.

As George Marsden points out in Fundamentalism and American Culture, World War I touched off a frenzy of speculation about Germany and “the Huns” being a possible candidate for the Antichrist and his Empire. One can imagine how a world war would lead people to speculate on such matters. And I am sure that this speculation reached another level when Hitler was around. And yet, the end did not come.

This did not stop speculation. The emphasis shifted from shattered Germany to the Red Menace and the Soviet Union which would surely invade Israel and fulfill Ezekiel 38. The bad interpretation of premillenialism said that “this generation” applied to 1948 and Israel (we are now 63 years later, when does a generation end?). Chuck Smith said the end was probably going to be in 1981–or maybe 1986.

After the Cold War ended with no Russian invasion in sight, there was a bit of a lull as some looked to China as the new possible beast from the East. Then we had 9/11 and the premillenial world went crazy over Islam. Surely Islam would usher in the end by invading Israel.

In some ways, premillenialism cannot ever be proven wrong. You can show people all of these past wrong predictions and they will blow it off as men’s opinions. Dates change, the Antichrist changes, new events are constantly discovered within the same old passages, and the end still does not come. But people love to think that our generation is the most important one, and that things like this have never occurred before. Well, they have. Many of the Biblical texts point to AD 70 and the destruction of the old world. No more Temple, no more Law, no more Jews (their religion was ended at the Cross and there is no more Temple worship that wouldn’t be an insult to God). God’s kingdom will continue to spread from the River to the ends of the earth, like a mustard seed that grows into a great tree.

The Petrine Office

This is me thinking out loud. The prominence of Peter in the New Testament is striking, but it does not mean what the modern RCC says it means. So what does it mean? I’m not sure. The famous passage from Matthew 16 says:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

It looks to me like Jesus is addressing Peter, not everyone. Peter features prominently in the Gospels and the early part of Acts. He is given a lot of attention. His post-Resurrection restoration by Jesus is portrayed at length. Why? Why the focus on him?


  • Peter was flawed, he was not infallible, he made mistakes.
  • He was not in charge of the church in Jerusalem.
  • Paul says Jesus appeared to him first of all.
  • A party in Corinth claimed to be of him.
  • He led the church in the earliest days.
  • Peter was the rock, the leader of the early Church, but it was leadership in council, a conciliar model. He was not even first among equals, but one of perhaps a triad of leaders.
  • I believe that he did go to Rome.
  • The NT cannot possibly lay obedience to the See of Rome on believers as a necessity.
  • Jesus built the church on Peter in some sense.
  • The gates of hell did not prevail in some sense.