For Age-Integrated Church Life

At All Saints, Heathfield, Sussex. By Paula Bailey.

At a certain church of my acquaintance, I have learned, ‘young adults’ are not allowed to attend ‘college student’ events such as prayer meetings, small groups, large groups, and Sunday Bible studies. Though for the sake of authority I am prepared to abide by such policies of age segregation, I remain unconvinced that they are necessary or even prudent. To cut up churches by age to this degree seems to reinforce the dissolution and remaking of the faith every half generation or so, unless the age circumscriptions be themselves circumscribed to serve specific purposes. After all, boundaries for the sake of boundaries are useless and, taken to their extreme, can result only in each man being a church unto himself.

Clearly, when people are doing different things in life, their concerns will also vary. But the variety of concerns is what needs to find harmony in the unity of Christ’s body. St Paul tells us several times, in several books, that the Body of Christ has parts that are not interchangeable, of which all are necessary and to be honoured. When one part suffers, he says, every part suffers with it; and when one part rejoices, every part rejoices with it. For this is simply our common humanity as recognized in, and enabled by, the love of Christ. In such solidarity, therefore, there is not even anything unnatural: grace does not destroy nature but perfects it. The natural instinct for society is purified by a knowledge of the biblical call to unity in the Word of God who has become flesh, in whose flesh our flesh is to be saved.

Yet what specifically addresses the struggles of high-school students will be largely irrelevant to folk who have already taken their university degrees – or will it be? The particular practical problems differ, of course, but even then I think there may be more to be gained than to be lost from putting together people who are facing different difficulties. Even in the same life stage, after all, no one has the same life. It is from lives that are different, yet have something in common with our own, that we gain new perspective and learn. If we imagine learning from ourselves, I think all of us expect to learn more from our selves of another age – whether older or younger – than from our familiar selves of today.

It seems odd to me, therefore, to have formalized life-stage groups at all, except as accommodations of human weakness for two purposes: teaching and solidarity. The rational basis I can see for the existence of separate prayer meetings in addition to wider ones is similar to the rational basis for sex-segregated small groups for sharing: certain things may be easier to share and discuss fruitfully in an age-segregated group. And it does seem good in teaching, too, to address issues specific to each kind of experience, that Christians may apply God’s word to their specific circumstances. Nevertheless, I insist that this kind of separation – I shall not say wall of separation – needs to be secondary to an experience of unity. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us. And just as culturally different Jews and (erstwhile) Gentiles saw the wall of circumcision broken down between them, so the concerns of all must be reconciled in Christian sympathy. Therefore homophily, or the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others, must be accommodated realistically but also considered relative to higher needs and ordered toward those higher callings.

To me it seems of little importance to ensure that each age cohort has any more unity than the congregation at large. If anything, it is relationships outside of these cohorts that should be encouraged, to turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers. Friendships within a generation will almost certainly form; it is across generations that the Church has seen the need to find godfathers and godmothers for its children. Indeed, such friendships between generations are some of the most celebrated in the Bible. As Alastair Roberts notes, ‘Contrary to our typical assumptions, David and Jonathan weren’t the same age. If we pay attention to the text of 1 Samuel, it should be clear that David was only about twenty, while Jonathan was probably in his very late forties or early fifties. This wasn’t a relationship between peers, but a relationship closer to – yet different from – an adoption, where, through the crown prince’s initiative (cf. 1 Samuel 20.8), he chose a young man to take his place.’ The brotherhood of the Church is exactly that of having fought and shed blood together, bound by the blood of Christ; and this communion of saints has nothing to do with the divisions of age which we would impose for the sake of ease. The faith, after all, is not to make us comfortable by giving us sentimental feelings but to comfort us by making us strong in Christ’s sacrifice and able to yield to the Lord a noble obedience. If a partial segregation fails to serve this end, then it has no use, and is good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Hair Differentiating the Marital Status of Women


Gilded-silver hairpin in the shape of a phoenix. Liao dynasty.
Cultural Relics Store of Chifeng District.

Since marriage is not a spiritual state but a temporal state – for marriage ends when death doth two persons part – there is no inward spiritual grace to speak of: the external institution is itself the grace of God to bless the union of a man and a woman for the purposes of populating the earth, of civilized and holy use of sexual union, and of companionship and comfort. Marriage, as a temporal state undertaken by some, is no more than what the five senses can sense and the mind can naturally infer; to recognize it requires no internal witness of the Holy Ghost. Therefore it is important to the being of marriage itself that a wife’s marital status – a state of legal submission to her husband – be manifest to the eyes, for a secret marriage is no marriage at all.

In Chinese culture, however, the signs of marriage are not necessarily those used by Westerners. Whereas Western churches have used a metal ring to show that a wife is married, such a custom is alien to the Far East, introduced but a few decades ago. The confusion of wedding rings worn by both sexes, moreover, falls short of the ideal. Through the inroads of the jewellery industry’s aggressive marketing and of gender egalitarianism, this custom became popular in the United States and entered even the American 1928 Book of Common Prayer; but it has little to commend it as a sign of marriage as a social order. It is desirable, therefore, for the Chinese to find another sign that represents a woman’s being married.

Such signs may seem archaic in an age when even Mrs and Miss are dissolved in the indistinct Ms, but it remains useful to differentiate who is married and who is not. For a woman, since Eve was designed to be a paraclete (advocate, comforter, helper) to Adam, whether she has a husband is a crucial distinction. This is true whether or not the head covering that St Paul has in view in 1 Corinthians applies to married women only. And if St Paul’s injunction is indeed for married women, then there is additional reason for a married woman to set herself apart from unmarried women by a sign on her head that signifies, especially when she prays or prophesies, that she belongs to her husband.

In China, into the Republican era, unmarried women wore their hair braided in two long queues:


When they married, they changed their hair:


Often, hairpins and hair clips became prominent parts of a married woman’s adornment. After a wedding, in fact, a husband would put into his wife’s hair a hairpin she had given to him upon their engagement. The dressing of the hair, then, has formed in Chinese culture a significant part of the complex of symbols signifying a man’s headship of his wife.

Even in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (色,戒), set in the Second World War, there are traces of this custom. Wei Tang plays Wong Chia-chi, a first-year university student in Hong Kong who joins a patriotic student drama club in planning to assassinate the traitorous Mr Yee, an official who is working for the Japanese.

To conduct the espionage necessary, she becomes ‘Mrs Mak’. Not only have her clothes been dressed up considerably, but her hair is also completely different:

For a Chinese order of holy matrimony, then, a hairpin might be better than a ring. Though its ceremonial use seem archaic, and need moreover to be revived, its significance is easily inferred. It has the added benefit of being about the head and its hair, and thus signifying headship perhaps more obviously than a ring. Adorning the hair and clothing it with dignity, a hairpin or a set of them might effectively mark wives as wives, with the honour worthy of a wife. Perhaps some people would object to such adornments, but I think them both beautiful and fitting. Indeed, by Chinese reckoning, what is fitting is for that reason beautiful.

English Altar

Anglicans who wish in the spirit of the Ornaments Rubric to furnish the Lord’s Table in the tradition of what the Church used before the Reformation often favour what is known as the English altar. As Percy Dearmer says, however,

People call these altars ‘English altars’, because they must have some name; but they are really Catholic altars – the type which, in more than one form, persisted from early times over the whole Church, and only succumbed, two centuries after the Renaissance had begun, to the Baroque influence of the counter-Reformation. There are many Flemish pictures in the National Gallery to show this; and all over Italy from Giotto to Ghirlandaio and the painters of the sixteenth century, the pictures show no other form of altar.

In Gothic interiors especially, this configuration of the Table is harmonious and dignified. As in all Anglican arrangements of the Table, noted for their noble simplicity, there are no more than two candlesticks. Most distinctive, however, are the riddel posts with their altar curtains on the left and right, and often behind the Table as well. For there is a presence of Christ in the sacrament, even though not locally bound, to which the proper response is awe. What happens in the believing heart is the unveiling of the spirit’s ‘face’ to a presence before which the seraphim veil their faces. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. So it is very fitting that this reality, a glory that made the face of Moses shine brighter than the Israelites could bear, should be suggested in curtains. And atop the riddel posts, indeed, are the figures of angels.

Liturgical position

One advantage of riddel posts is that they præclude the celebration of the Lord’s Supper versus populum, in which the elder faces the people. For many a time has this posture detracted from the priority of the Lord’s own signs of bread and wine offered by the hand of God and taken from the hand of God. Yet celebration ad orientem, in which the elder with the people faces the front or ‘east’ end, is apt to be focused too exclusively on sacrifice at the moment when the sacrament is given precisely as a gift from God. When we pray with the bread and wine lying before God, we plead upon the merit of Christ that this same merit may, by the power of the Holy Ghost, be applied to all who take the signs with faith enabled by the Holy Ghost. And so where should our eyes fall but upon the bread as it is taken, broken, and designated, and upon the wine as it is taken and designated? Though ancient precedent of the Church is for celebrating the Lord’s Supper ad orientem, that position has a weakness that the selfsame Church has the right to remedy. Besides the fashionable versus populum and the ancient ad orientem, there is a third position:

Altar in St Mary-in-the-Baum, consecrated 2 February 1911 by Edmund Knox.

The position the arrangement above leaves room for, and the position ordered by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, is the Table’s north end (the right side facing the people, the left side as viewed by the people). As Evan McWilliams notes, ‘The resulting placement of the minister and clerk on opposite sides of the Table occasionally has been termed “the lion and the unicorn” in reference to the supporters on the royal coat of arms.’ Here, then, you would see the minister on the left and the clerk on the right, like cherubim flanking the ark of the covenant.


Sometimes, instead of a dossal (back curtain) of cloth right behind the Table, what you have is a graven or painted reredos, of wood or other hard material. Behind an English altar, the reredos may look like this:

The Lord’s Table with riddel posts and a painted reredos.

Being Reformed, and following the principles of earlier Christians, I am not fond of having prominent images front and centre to dilute attention away from the visible signs the Lord has ordained, though symbolically clearer images can be used instead to focus attention upon those divinely appointed signs. Instead of the images on the reredos, I would want the Creed, the Decalogue, and the Lord’s Prayer, with the middle panel occupied by a golden dove signifying the presence of the Holy Ghost. But, since the panels are not large, the Creed might have to be represented by a heart, the Decalogue by two tablets, and the Lord’s Prayer by two praying hands. The dove in between the law’s two tablets would show that the law, once for all fulfilled by Christ, was now graven into us by the Holy Spirit of Christ.

Youth Ministers Supporting Youth Integration

Quoted by Andrew Root, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said of youth ministry:

Youth enjoys no special privilege in the church-community. It is to serve the church-community by hearing, learning, and practicing the word. God’s spirit in the church has nothing to do with youthful criticism of the church, the radical nature of God’s claim on human beings nothing to do with youthful radicalism, and the commandment for sanctification nothing to do with youthful impulse to better the world.

Though good youth ministry consists in integrating young men and women into the life of the church through the faithfulness of their (god)parents, and not in segregating them from their elders and their younger siblings, there still does seem to be an important role for a youth minister: to catechize people in their teens and twenties into the liturgy of the church, and to teach them ways to approach contemporary challenges faithfully, adhering to Scripture and right reason. By example, in the Holy Communion liturgy, the youth minister might serve often as the Gospeller or the Epistoller; on weekdays, statutes permitting, he might lead students in prayer at school and teach them to lead daily prayers on their own. He could also be their confessor and spiritual director, especially if he was ordained a presbyter:

And because it is requisite, that no man should come to the holy Communion, but with a full trust in God’s mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore if there be any of you who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned Minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God’s holy Word he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness.

Even without authority in the church to pronounce absolution, a confessor and spiritual director can diagnose the spiritual ailment and prescribe a penance that helps the penitent recover his health; unless the penitent desires especially to hear absolution pronounced upon him individually, he will already have what he needs in Sunday’s absolution pronounced upon the whole church. For students, a school lunch is an excellent time for confession and spiritual direction, since the student who approaches then will likely be fasting anyway; the penance that the spiritual director recommends may be something the student can do right away. This presence of spiritual discipline in the midst of daily life is something students can learn to practise themselves, and having learnt they will keep, and keeping they will cherish, and cherishing they will persevere. Or so we hope, that God may use the discipline of the mind and body to infuse the image of his Word into those who are his sons.

Indeed, sonship must be a central theme in young persons’ study. In their stage of life, being the child of a father and mother is, whether well or badly, the most prominent structure. It is in this relation – or in the sense of not having this relation – that they grow up. And the one they are to imitate above all things, the Christ, is the Son of God. Both their origin and their future glory is in sonship. For in their baptisms they are ritually adopted, and on the Last Day they will have in full measure their inheritance in Christ the only-begotten Son, who this day is ascended to the heavens at the right hand of the Father. Their humble beginning is that of a son emerging from the waters, and their glory is in the Son receiving all power and honour. And so, in the life of the Church, the youth minister should encourage them with the lives of the glorious martyrs, that they may believe that what is Christ’s is theirs, and support their relationships with their godfathers and godmothers, that they may learn sonship from those who themselves are sons of the Most High, in the Spirit of the only-begotten Son. The end is that they may know themselves first and foremost as sons, as they learn from the catechism:

Question. What is your Name?
Answer. N. or M.
Question. Who gave you this Name?
Answer. My Godfathers and Godmothers in my Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.

May they all, with the faithfulness of their parents in God and the help of youth ministers, be worthy by faith to inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Apostolic Episcopacy and Church Planting Movements

The Cappadocian Fathers. By David Edwards.

The Cappadocian Fathers. By David Edwards.

The paradigm of multicampus churches – that is, virtual congregations – is a paradigm of overcentralization. These churches are dependent on one talented pastor, and when that pastor’s work ends they must disperse. It is better to have a bishop who supports the work of other pastors with his superior learning and judgement, but does not build up a bureaucracy: instead, he comes by and moves on. These days it may be hard or infeasible to have almost all presbyters take higher degrees, but a less prelatical and more pastoral episcopate should make it possible for church planting to be done by more people with less money. Obviously, this kind of apostolic bishop is quite different from the typical Anglican bishop of today. He is a missionary. He may be celibate like St Paul, to be able to focus on the missionary work of the kingdom; or he may do his work married, but being the wife of a bishop should be like being a missionary and the wife of a missionary. For a bishop’s essential work is missionary in nature, and we in the Church do wrong to neglect that aspect of his call. So a bishop goes and trains laymen to lead worship and disciple others, and a bishop examines and ordains new elders, and a bishop licenses elders to preach and confirms those baptized, and a bishop writes and holds courts of appeal – and he keeps on moving. In this he is like St Paul:

Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?

This missionary roving must have been why cathedral churches (where bishops must have kept their libraries) had deans: the bishop was often away doing his much-needed work. The bishops of today, in contrast, are often far too unsure of their own purpose and have to compensate by making a fetish of apostolical succession, as if a succession of manual acts can make dry bones into living flesh. No living church can come out of such unbelief. We must have bishops who lead lives of sacrifice, who travel far and wide for the gospel, who will leave the ninety-nine for the one. The dean and the canons of his cathedral church may sometimes travel around too, to teach others to proclaim and live out the gospel, but he most of all.

Sella curulis.

Sella curulis.

Yet the congregations, to keep doing their work untrammelled, must have the autonomy to manage their own affairs. Only matters that affect the unity of the whole should be referred to the bishop, and the rest should have unpaid people doing most of the work. For this, and not the ministerium, is the Body of Christ. Then the ministerium is free to shepherd the flock by beating away the wolves and finding pasture for the sheep, when the work that belongs to the whole body is not placed upon the ordained ministers’ shoulders. Study of the Scriptures should be responsive to the sound words of the bishop and the other elders, but it does not require the presence or even the constant oversight of an elder, any more than evangelism requires the presence of an elder. The ordained ministers need to empower the laymen to do all these things and to serve the poor and powerless without looking for any other initiative than the leading of the Holy Ghost in the words of holy Scripture. In this way everyone will defer to duly constituted authority but live in the freedom that comes with the power of the Holy Spirit of Christ, and so the work of God will be done in good order but by the priesthood of all believers.

As the Church multiplies its congregations and perhaps even adds daily to the number of those who are saved, new bishops will need to be consecrated in each area, who have proved to be of sound faith and learning. And it is of no great moment if some hard questions are beyond his ability, for the unity of Christ’s Body supplies his defects: easily can he write to other bishops for their learning and counsel, and for a knottier matter, a matter that needs more learned judgement and the consensus of the wise, a synod can discern with prayer and study what the word of God approves as true and godly. Sometimes a church may even look like Corinth. Such ungodly conduct is unworthy of Christ; but has the Church not survived and come through the trial of fire? The work of God was ever so, that it would not have some be discipled and the rest of the world left to burn.

The foregoing is only a rough sketch, but I trust that it has sufficiently articulated a vision of episcopacy and church planting that has been used but has now been abandoned in favour of the troubles of many buildings and salaries.

The Church Will Inherit China

Is the atheism of mainland China cracking? If Yang Fengguang of Purdue University is right, in little more than fifteen years China may have 250 million Christians. By then China’s population is projected to be about 1.4 billion, so Yang’s figure means China will be 18% Christian. Take note: this percentage is fifteen years from now. Just think about the next fifty years. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.


American Readers: Vote on Tuesday

We have no presidential election until 2016, but it still is important to vote. Find your polling place below.

Of course, I tend to be pretty vote-happy. If I think sound procedures are being followed, but I have no one worth voting for, I still go to the polling place and enter an abstention. Perhaps you do not. In any case, have a good day.