Books remind: this is the only church we have

Published October 1, 2003

The Songs of the Mothers
by Joe Morris Doss
Church Pub. Inc., NY
317 pp, 46.25

Anglicans have always loved tranquillity and too often that has meant acquiescence to complacency. But today Anglicans have to be troubled Christians. Controversies are rampant and threats of division abound. Worst of all is the alacrity with which some Anglican leaders of differing persuasions are engaging in behaviour towards others which at best may be described as disgraceful. Certainly the issues are important, requiring serious study and discussion. Most worrying is the lack of courtesy, trust or charity which would allow that to happen.

In his book, In The Ruins Of The Church, Anglican theologian R.R. Reno asserts that we should accept, “the reality of the church and wear the fetters that our age has given us to wear: an increasing inarticulate theological tradition, a capitulating and culturally captive church, a disintegrating spiritual discipline.” These are strong sentiments and many will think them too stark. But he goes on to make the case that the gospel is not an easy ride, it never was, and that, “our difficulties, personal, pastoral and theological, stem from the fact that Christian proclamation bites very deeply into our anxieties about our own lives … (and) far from reassuring us, the gospel threatens to judge and change us. Therefore we are both offended and frightened.”

This is a book that struggles with today’s issues, applying logic to various trends and styles of church life that have come to represent how Anglicans worship, pray and live. As conservative as it is in approach it deserves a reading by all those who would appreciate some clarification of the spiritual issues at stake. The author reviews how different schools of Anglican thought have reacted to the collapse of Christendom and how all “face the emerging problem of intraecclesial dysfunction.”

However, this church is the only church we have. It is the broken Body of Christ. If we would be faithful, “We should return to rather than flee from the ‘impossibilities’ of ecclesial life, its impotence and lifelessness … For in the ruins of Jerusalem, in the pierced, dead, and ruined body of our Lord Jesus Christ, in which we now dwell far more literally than any of us might have imagined, the Lord brings us to see, as only eyes cleansed by tears of repentance can, the omnipotence of his cruciform love.”

In The Songs of the Mothers, Joe Morris Doss, retired bishop of New Jersey, draws on The Song of Hannah (mother of Samuel – 1 Sam. 2:1-10a) and The Song of Mary (mother of Jesus – Luke 1:46-55) to capture, “What they reveal about the nature of God and God’s causes … in a time when their news, at the very heart of the good news, has been obscured where not lost – or trivialized in rank sentimentality.”

It is his thesis that, “The old church is dying and reform is needed.” He reviews all previous reformations from the time of Constantine through Gregory to the l6th century and finds that each has left us with questions today about how we relate to the world, how to deal with clericalism and authority in the church, and how we react culturally to the excessive individualism that marks our culture. He believes that through the 20th century a new reformation was born and it is building up towards sweeping reforms which might be called the Ecumenical Reformation, “a significant and necessary step toward the drive to unity for which our Lord prayed.”

Bishop Doss examines the centrality of justice in God’s purpose (read those mothers’ songs!) and reviews how the church must recover a self-understanding, “from the early foundations of the church in Christian mission, in baptismal theology, and in the doctrine of God.” His sections on ministry, ordained and otherwise, draw from a wide variety of scholarship as all branches of the Christian church struggle with inherited problems.

The chapter on Community is vital reading for those who experience the failure of interconnectedness in their churches, “because the church cannot build community beyond that based on personal feelings and attitudes, particularly those founded on like-mindedness.” In other words our churches have fallen prey to the consumerist materialism that is the dominant philosophy of our age. He is particularly critical of those Protestant churches that have turned Christianity into an individualistic consumerist religion. However, he believes that true reformation is underway and is full of hope as, “We must suffer creation and the kingdom in communion with God. The church must sing the songs of the mothers.”


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