May 21, 2020

Renewal Past and Present

Filed under: Spiritualty,Trinity School for Ministry — William Witt @ 5:56 am

The following appeared in Trinity School for Ministry’s Seed & Harvest Spring/Summer 2020.


Why renewal? Because the Christian church has been around for over 2,000 years, renewal becomes necessary as each generation must once again claim the faith for itself, but also must address the changes and challenges of a surrounding culture that may or may not be sympathetic to the Christian gospel. As the upcoming generation encounters the challenges of its own culture, it has to be faithful not only to what has come before, but also to address new challenges in new ways.

A renewal movement took place in the Episcopal Church in the 1970’s that had its roots in the charismatic movement that began in the 1960’s, characterized by the experience in mainline Protestant denominations of charismatic gifts that earlier had been characteristic of Pentecostalism. The renewal emphasized an experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit in worship that had been lacking in mainline denominations.

This renewal movement has continued to have an influence on the contemporary church. Many later church leaders got their starts or came to faith then. Charismatic renewal had a significant effect on styles of (contemporary) worship music. Within Anglican and Episcopal circles, charismatics are regularly included as one of the “three streams” of conservative Anglicanism identified as not only Evangelical and Catholic, but now also Charismatic.

While this renewal movement of the 1970s played a significant role in bringing revitalization within the mainline churches, it was only one of several renewal movements of the previous century. In what follows, I will mention three other renewal movements, and how they led me to become an Anglican.

Contemporaneous with charismatic renewal was the rise of “Evangelicalism” (as distinct from Fundamentalism) in denominations that were predominantly baptistic or revivalist, – “born again” Christianity. Evangelicalism likely reached its cultural high point when Newsweek recognized the election of Jimmy Carter as President by designating 1975 as the “Year of the Evangelicals.”

During my high school and college undergraduate years, my family were members of an Evangelical megachurch with a large youth group that became the center of my social circle. While other teenagers went to prom or played high school sports, I spent my time with my church friends. It was through this youth group that I became convinced that I had a vocation to some kind of Christian ministry, and I ended up doing my undergraduate studies at a local Evangelical liberal arts college. My Evangelical upbringing gave me a spirituality that focused on a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ, a knowledge of and love for the Bible, and a way of responding to certain types of worship. Hymns like ‟Amazing Grace” still move me in ways that are hardly rational.

A second renewal movement took place during the twentieth century in the area of academic theology. (more…)

May 13, 2020

An Initial Response to the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word’s “Response” to “Women in Holy Orders”

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 7:55 pm

Melancholy A couple of years ago, several bishops of the ACNA approached Grant LeMarquand, fellow Professor at Trinity School for Ministry, former Bishop in the Horn of North Africa, and current interim Bishop for the Diocese of the Great Lakes in the ACNA, and myself with the request to write a short summary of the biblical and theological case for women’s ordination to the priesthood (presbyterate). We were asked to keep this as short as possible; initially ten pages was suggested, but the final copy was still only 22 pages, plus bibliography. At that length, we could not attempt a complete argument, but only a summary, which, of course, meant that some concerns could receive only cursory attention, and even where a bit more detail was given, only a few essential points could be mentioned. One of the purposes of the attached bibliography was to point people in the direction of further resources to address some of the questions that such a short summary inevitably would raise.

The document was released only to the House of Bishops, not publicly. The primary reason for this, as an ACNA bishop wrote to me in email, was that the bishops who requested it “didn’t want your work to begin another round of a ‘T I T for T A T’ debate on the blogs.” Both Bishop Grant and I have been frustrated that what we wrote was not made publicly available, but we are also quite aware of the low level of discourse on the internet. As we wrote in the original essay, “In producing this statement we have no desire to be contentious. Our desire is simply to uphold what we believe to be a biblical and godly practice.” (more…)

Women in Holy Orders:

Filed under: Theology,Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 7:27 am

christ_in_the_house_of_martha_and_maryThe following essay was written by Trinity School for Ministry Professor of Missions Bishop Grant LeMarquand and myself at the request of the bishops of the ACNA in August 2018. The bishops asked us not to release the document publicly because they wanted to avoid “another round of a ‘T I T for T A T’ debate on the blogs.” Recently, the document was released along with an accompanying “Response” by the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word (ACNA) without notification to either Bishop Grant or myself. Given that the “blog debate” has already become a reality, there seems little point in holding onto the essay so it appears below. I also intend to respond to the “Response,” likely in more than one essay.

A Biblical and Theological Defense of the Case for Allowing Women to Continue to be Ordained as Presbyters in the Anglican Church of North America

The Rev Dr. Grant LeMarquand and Dr. William G. Witt

On September 7, 2017, the ACNA College of Bishops stated:

Having gratefully received and thoroughly considered the five-year study by the Theological Task Force on Holy Orders, we acknowledge that there are differing principles of ecclesiology and hermeneutics that are acceptable within Anglicanism that may lead to divergent conclusions regarding women’s ordination to the priesthood. However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order. We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province. However, we continue to acknowledge that individual dioceses have constitutional authority to ordain women to the priesthood.

Although it had been hoped that their statement would bring a certain amount of peace to the ACNA, which has been divided on the issue of women’s orders, in fact the statement generated much heat in the blogs. This paper may also generate some heat simply by virtue of its topic. This, however, is not its purpose. In producing this statement we have no desire to be contentious. Our desire is simply to uphold what we believe to be a biblical and godly practice.

The College of Bishops rightly stated that there are different hermeneutical principles being used by differing groups within the church. This paper, we hope, will make clear that we believe that there is a sufficient weight of evidence in scripture, no persuasive tradition against, and persuasive theological reasons to affirm, that women are called and gifted by God for ordained ministry in the church. The bishops also stated that the ordination of women is “a recent innovation.” We would argue that women were serving in ministry positions in the apostolic period. Ordaining women is “a recent innovation” only because the practice of ordaining women was lost to the church and has now been revived. At the same time, any appeal to the “tradition of the church” as an argument against ordaining women should honestly recognize the historical reasons why women were not ordained, and that recent arguments against the ordination of women do not reflect this historical position, but are themselves recent innovations. Further, the bishops stated that there is “insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province.” We take this statement to mean that it is not the opinion of the bishops that women’s ordination be imposed on all dioceses. We concur. If some bishops and dioceses are not convinced that women should be ordained, those bishops and dioceses should not be forced to do so.

The purpose of this paper, therefore, is not to attempt to coerce any diocese into the practice of ordaining women as presbyters. This statement acknowledges that the reasons given for not ordaining women are coherent (although we disagree with them) and that it has the weight of much (but certainly not all) of the history of the church on its side. What the signers of this paper contend is that the argument in favor of ordaining women is also coherent and that there are important arguments in its favor. Most of all, we contend that there is a substantial body of scriptural reasoning and theological argument in favor of ordaining women as priests. This statement will not present every argument which could be made: substantial arguments have been made elsewhere (see the short bibliography attached). Our statement is meant to be merely an outline of the major arguments, especially those from scripture. This scriptural witness leads us to believe that the ordination of godly women as leaders in Christ’s church should continue to be authorized in ACNA dioceses that have decided, or may in future decide, in favor of this policy.

Because this study is simply an outline of the pro-women’s ordination argument, there may be many questions raised which could be answered if there was room for more detail. We commend the bibliography attached as a collection of writings which may help those interested to gain further insight. We would remind any who may comment on this paper to remember that this subject is a sensitive one, both for those in favor of women priests and for those against. By all means, arguments can and should be raised, but arguments should be made against ideas, not people. There is no excuse for dismissing another person’s case without evidence. The use of arguments ad hominem (the logical fallacy which attacks the person rather than the position – a form of argumentation which, sadly, have become prevalent on the internet) should be resisted.


February 29, 2020

On the Reading of Old Books

Filed under: Spiritualty,Theology — William Witt @ 9:30 pm

C.S. Lewis’s essay “On the Reading of Old Books” has had a tremendous influence on me since I first read it in my 20’s. (By “old,” Lewis meant “chronologically old,” not a book I’ve owned for a long time.) Lewis recommends reading at least one old book every time one had read a new one. I have not been able to abide by this rule, and the meaning of “old” necessarily changes with time. What Lewis meant by “contemporary” would now mean “old.” I do find it a helpful exercise regularly to learn from previous generations.

The following is a list of “old” (at least not contemporary) books I’ve been reading recently with some comments:

E.L. Mascall, Corpus Christi: Essays on the Church and the Eucharist. Longmans, 1953.This book superbly addresses issues of disagreement in eucharistic theology that are still with us. Too often we presume that “no one has thought of this before.”

Mascall’s book led me to this one, which should be a classic in the biblical and historical foundations of eucharistic theology, with very helpful discussion of issues dividing Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics:

Charles Gore. The Body of Christ: An Inquiry into the Institution and Doctrine of Holy Communion. John Murray, 1901, 1909.

J. B. Mozley. A Review of the Baptismal Controversy. E. P. Dutton, 1862.

Mozley was Newman’s brother in law, and wrote the definitive critique of Newman’s notion of development of doctrine. This book is a balanced discussion of the baptismal regeneration controversy in light of Scripture and the church’s tradition. Although Anglo-Catholic in his leanings, he makes the case that the Gorham controversy was rightly decided, and that the issue is not so straightforward as either nineteenth century Anglo-Catholics or Evangelicals tried to make it. (Both sides played fast and loose with the biblical and historical data.) (more…)

November 2, 2019

Signs of Hope and Cracks in the Armor: An Ordination Sermon for a Secular Age

Filed under: Sermons — William Witt @ 10:00 pm

Preached at the Ordination of Greg and Noel Collins Pfeiffer to the Priesthood

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 145
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 10: 1-9


One of the things I enjoy most about having been a seminary professor for awhile is that I get to go through the “entire process” with my students, from beginning to end. Nine years ago, I saw a young couple arrive at Trinity, having recently finished their undergraduate schooling in Chicago, now coming to study together – Greg and Noel Collins Pfeiffer. There are no typical seminary couples these days, but Greg and Noel were not typical even at Trinity. He was a Starbucks barista. Sometimes it seemed like his sense of style was stuck in the 90’s — the 1890’s. She sometimes worked as a swimming lifeguard. They read fantasy literature, especially Tolkien, and they hung around with a group of students who called each other “The Scooby Gang.” They lived with some other students in a kind of intentional community. Both Noel and Greg took courses from me, and while faculty are not supposed to have favorite students, I confess that I developed an especial fondness for Greg and Noel. I had the privilege of directing Noel’s thesis on Gregory of Nyssa. I saw both of them graduate in 2013. Noel’s hair was the same color as her graduation hood that day. In August 2013, Noel used her secret connections to get me invited to give some talks on Reformation Anglicanism for the first CANA West Diocesan Synod in San Antonio, Texas. Among my other jobs, I am on the Commission on Ministry for the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, and I was on the committee that interviewed Greg and Noel to enter the ordination process – one week before their son Elian was due to be born. And today I am privileged to preach at their ordination to the priesthood. I am honored and grateful to be part of the end of this journey, as I was at the beginning. It is, of course, a truism, to say that this is really not an end, but another beginning. But while it may be a truism, it is not trite. Noel and Greg will now be exercising the ministries that they first came to Trinity to begin studying for. Noel, Greg, I thank you for this opportunity to speak at your ordination to the priesthood. I have not taught any students of whom I am so happy to see this moment arrive as I am for you.

Greg, Noel, as I speak to you this evening, I can’t help but wonder about the path you have chosen, as I am sure you probably have yourself. To take the path of ordination to the priesthood these days is to set out on a hard road. Why would anyone want to be a priest today? The culture seems to be going through what is called a process of “secularization” that began in the 1960’s, but it finally seems to be reaching its apex. In the last generation, church membership in the United States has plummeted. From 1937 through the 1990s, membership regularly averaged around 70% of the population. From 1998 until now, church membership has dropped to just around 50% of the population. Since the turn of the 21st century, the percentage of Americans with no religious affiliation has doubled, from 8% to 19%. The shift is also generational. Among millennials, those of Noel’s and Greg’s generation, only 42% are members of any church. And, of course, church attendance is lower than church membership. Only about a third of the population attend church weekly, but among those aged 18 to 29, only 17% attend church every week.

Along with the decrease in church membership, respect for clergy as an occupation has also dropped. A recent study found that among those who attend church regularly, 75% view clergy positively. However, among those who attend church only once a month, only 52% think clergy are trustworthy. And if you attend church less than once a month, the chances that you consider clergy to be honest and intelligent is only 27% to 30%. The population as a whole views teachers, doctors, scientists, and members of the military more positively than clergy. Only 42% of average Americans have a positive view of clergy. In terms of trustworthiness, clergy are viewed about the same level as lawyers.

So how should the church respond to this changed situation? Noel, Greg, perhaps this is a time to rethink. You already know how to make coffee and coach swimming. It’s not too late to change your minds. I really don’t want you to change your minds though. If anything, clergy are more needed now than they were a generation ago. There was a time when the local pastor or priest was something like those doctors who used to give house calls. Someone you could depend on, just part of the way things were, but not someone you thought about much until someone got sick. In the current situation, the priest is something more like an emergency medical technician in the midst of a major catastrophe. Clergy are more necessary now, not less. Matthew 9:36 speaks of an event in the life of Jesus: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” When the sheep have lost their way, we need shepherds to find the sheep and bring them back into the fold. There is a passage in the gospel reading this evening that is right on target. Jesus said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Greg and Noel, the church has called you to be laborers in the harvest.


September 27, 2019

Unjust Stewards and Unrighteous Wealth: A Sermon on the Gospel According to Robin Hood

Filed under: Sermons — William Witt @ 11:50 pm

Amos 8:4-12
Psalm 138
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

St. GeorgeOne of the most popular of traditional stories is the “Robin Hood” or “Cinderella” story. The story begins with a setting of injustice. There are a group of powerful and usually wealthy figures who are in charge – the “bad guys” – who are unfairly oppressing someone else – an individual or a group of people who are poor, powerless, and unable to defend themselves. In “Robin Hood,” the bad guys are Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. In Cinderella, they are the wicked stepmother and the ugly step sisters. In the midst of this injustice, a previously unknown, poor, and apparently powerless figure appears out of nowhere, but this figure surprises everyone by defeating and overcoming the powerful and wealthy villains, the poor are delivered, and everyone lives happily ever after. Robin Hood and Cinderella play this figure in their versions of the story, but the story is still very much with us in contemporary culture. Orphaned teenagers Peter Parker and Harry Potter are Robin Hood and Cinderella respectively in our own day.

There are lots of ways to tell the biblical story, and the Robin Hood/Cinderella variation is one possible framework. Jacob’s son Joseph is the youngest of twelve brothers, who is sold into slavery, but eventually rises to be Pharaoh’s right-hand man, to deliver Egypt from famine, and to save his own family, including the brothers who had betrayed him. Jacob’s descendants are slaves in Egypt, but they are delivered by Moses, himself the son of poor Israelites, who was pulled out of the Nile as a baby floating in a basket. In the New Testament, we are familiar with Mary’s prayer, The Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. . . . He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:46-48, 52-53)

The Robin Hood story can provide a kind of common framework for making sense of this morning’s lectionary readings. Turning to Amos, we find that the theme of the reading is the exploitation of the poor by the wealthy. Amos is historically the first of the writing prophets, written between 760 and 740 BC. The book is a judgment on the sins of the nation of Israel, and, unlike later prophets, Amos’s message is entirely negative. He offers no message of hope or forgiveness. Amos threatens that Israel will go into exile, and that is exactly what eventually happened. (more…)

July 16, 2019

I Get Mail or Justification and the New Perspective on Paul

Filed under: Justification,Theology — William Witt @ 5:23 am

This is the second part of a response to a reader who left some comments on an essay I’d written a few years ago entitled Anglican Reflections on Justification by Faith. Unfortunately, an adequate response required more space than would fit in a comment box. Here’s my response to the second comment:

And one other issue: IMHO one of the most powerful claims made by the “New Perspective” is that we cannot find a single instance of an author in the New Testament period who was defending “works righteousness”; hence, Paul could not have been arguing against a non-existent opponent. I have not seen a single response to this claim.

Unfortunately, (as Krister Stendahl asserted in an important essay), we read Paul through Luther, who indeed was battling those who were advocating salvation by works. A better resolution may be found in pursuing more carefully how the church has understood the role of merit in justification/sanctification. I’m reminded that Augustine said that when God rewards our merits, He crowns his own gifts.

Thanks. Steve

Lamb of GodSteve,

You raise two different issues in this comment, but both are variations on a common theme – that in some way the “New Perspective on Paul” invalidates the Reformation understanding of justification. In the realm of “popular” theology, I see this claim raised both by traditional Protestants (who then reject the New Perspective) and by Roman Catholics (or others of “catholic” leanings, e.g., Eastern Orthodox, Anglo-Catholics) who presume that the “New Perspective” in some way validates the “Catholic” position on justification. I mentioned this in my essay: “Occasionally, one comes across Roman Catholic apologists who suggest that the New Perspective proves that the Council of Trent was right, after all. More frequently, traditional Protestants (such as John Piper) vigorously attack the ‘New Perspective’ (notably N. T. Wright) as not only a betrayal of the Reformation, but a distortion of Paul’s theology.” Your reference to “merit” as God “crowning his gifts” sounds like a variation on the “Catholic” apologetic.

Some of this I already addressed in my essay: (1) “[T]he New Perspective does not amount to a simple rejection of the Reformation understanding of justification.” (2) “For example, broadly speaking, New Perspective scholars are clear that justification language in Paul is the language of the courtroom, and is thus forensic,” and (3) “New Perspective scholars continue to affirm that justification in Paul is ‘by faith alone.’ ”


July 10, 2019

I Get Mail or Concerning Justification and Doctrinal Development

Filed under: Development of Doctrine,Justification,Theology — William Witt @ 3:57 am

A reader left some comments on an essay I’d written a few years ago entitled Anglican Reflections on Justification by Faith. Unfortunately, an adequate response required more space than would fit in a comment box. Here’s my response to the first comment:

Very good article. Some Reformers identified the doctrine of justification as the “article by which the church stands or falls” and Luther himself said something very similar. Yet, as you indicate, the Reformation understanding of justification as 1) forensic and 2) distinct from sanctification was a genuine doctrinal development. Alister McGrath agreed with this assessment saying that the Reformation understanding was a “theological novum.” Herein lies the problem: if the reformed view of justification is a theological novum and it is central to our understanding of salvation, then it would seem that the church had erred on a central doctrine for 1500 years; indeed, it would seem that the church only began to “stand” with this theological discovery. So, I’m curious as to why you would label the Reformers view of justification as Doctrinal Development 1 instead of Doctrinal Development 2 (designations that you used in an essay on DD). Thanks. Steve

Lamb of GodSteve,

Three different issues need to be addressed here. First is the notion of doctrinal development itself. What constitutes a genuine as opposed to an illegitimate doctrinal development? Second concerns the question of whether justification by grace through faith is a genuine doctrinal development or rather an illegitimate development. Third, if justification is the article by which the church stands or falls, was it the case that the church “erred on a central doctrine for 1500 years”?

(1) So what constitutes a “doctrinal development”? A doctrinal development takes place when the church affirms as definitive a doctrinal position that had not been clearly articulated previously. In a very real sense, by definition, all doctrinal developments are “theological novi,” and it is for this reason that they often meet with opposition. Primary examples would be the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon. Nicea affirmed dogmatically that Jesus Christ is homoousios (of the same nature or “consubstantial”) with the Father. Chalcedon affirmed what became the official dogma concerning the incarnation – that Jesus Christ is one divine person with two natures, one divine and one human. Some resisted homoousios on the grounds that it was not a biblical expression, and that it was suspect as being “Sabellian.” Nestorians and monophysites/miaphysites rejected Chalcedon for opposite reasons. Nestorians rejected the language of “one person” because they suspected it was monophysite, while monophysites rejected Chalcedon because they suspected it of Nestorianism.

June 10, 2019

A Sermon on Engaging Theological Conflict

Filed under: Sermons — William Witt @ 3:26 am

This is a sermon I preached at the 2019 Ancient Evangelical Future Conference at Trinity School for Ministry.

Luke 20:27-21:4

St. GeorgeThis morning’s lectionary reading from Luke’s gospel consists of a number of stories about conflict between Jesus and different opponents. Each one of these could be the subject of a sermon in itself. In Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Luke, Cyril preaches three different sermons on what for us this morning is a single reading. I don’t have time to preach three sermons, but I don’t intend to focus on only one of the conflicts in which Jesus is involved in this passage either. Instead, I want to focus on the issue of conflict itself. Each one of the conflicts in which Jesus is engaged is essentially about a theological disagreement, and I am going to suggest that in this morning’s lectionary reading, Jesus provides an ideal example of how to deal with theological disagreement. We live in a culture that does not handle conflict very well, but, more to the point, this is a theological conference in which Christians of different theological traditions are gathered, so there are certainly issues of theological disagreement among us. Yet, this is also an ecumenical conference, in which, despite not agreeing on everything, we presumably believe that we agree enough on some things that we can meet together both to engage in mutually beneficial discussion and to worship. So how does Jesus address theological conflict in these stories?

In the first conflict story, Jesus encounters some Sadducees, a Jewish group who disagreed with the Pharisees in that they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Jesus’ Sadducee opponents engage in a reductio ad absurdum argument. They try to discredit the notion of resurrection by showing that if taken to its logical extreme, resurrection would lead to absurd results. They tell the story of a woman whose husband dies. Under the principle of levirate marriage, found in Deuteronomy 25, the brother of a man who had died was obligated to marry his brother’s widow in order that the man would not have died without heirs, but also as a form of financial security for the widow. The central plot of the book of Ruth in the Old Testament revolves around this practice. As the Sadducees tell the story, the woman marries the surviving brother, but he dies as well. The widow keeps marrying brothers, all of whom die, and then finally she dies. This leads to a question with all of the sophistication of a social media debate: If there is a resurrection, out of the seven brothers, whose wife would the woman be?

So how does Jesus address the conflict? (more…)

May 5, 2019

New Essay on the Anglican Spirituality of Thomas Traherne

Filed under: Anglicanism,Spiritualty — William Witt @ 6:16 am

Here is a link to an essay on the Anglican spiritual divine Thomas Traherne, which I just posted to my list of “Pages” on the right of my blog. This was originally published in Pro Ecclesia: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology, Vol. 25, No. 4, Fall. 2016. I thought this might be suitable for the Easter season.

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