Ashes In A Flash

Today is Ash Wednesday.

More than 70 Episcopal parishes in 18 states will bring Ash Wednesday to the streets, kicking off the Lenten season with a twist.They’ll offer the Christian sign of repentance — a smudged cross of ashes on the forehead — to anyone who seeks it in train stations, coffee shops and other public spots.Dubbed Ashes to Go, it’s a contemporary spin on the Ash Wednesday practice followed chiefly in Episcopal, Anglican, Catholic and Lutheran denominations.


GracePointe is honoring the nearly 2000 year old tradition of Ash Wednesday tonight with a very special service officiated by guest Celebrant, Ian Cron. As a multidenominal church, Gracepointe is in the unique position of being able to sift through the liturgy, celebrations, and observances of the High Church and the reformers. This picking and choosing allows us to offer the Body open pathways to the Throne of Grace without getting in the way of worship. But why are there so many choices?

Four or five hundred years ago, self described reformers, who objected to the doctrines, rituals, and structure of the Roman Catholic Church split from 1400 years of single ecclesiastical rule. What the reformers saw as a separation of the people from God, the Roman Catholic church saw as vocation.

The Protestant Reformation began on 31 October 1517, in Wittenberg, Saxony, where Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the door of the Castle Church, in Wittenberg. The theses debated and criticized the Church and the Pope, but concentrated upon the selling of indulgences and doctrinal policies about purgatory, particular judgment, Catholic devotion to Mary, Jesus’s Mother, the intercession of and devotion to the saints, most of the sacraments, the mandatory clerical celibacy, including monasticism, and the authority of the Pope. In the event, other religious reformers, such as Ulrich Zwingli, soon followed Martin Luther’s example.

The reformers soon disagreed among themselves and divided their movement according to doctrinal differences—first between Luther and Zwingli, later between Luther and John Calvin—consequently resulting in the establishment of different and rival Protestant Churches (denominations), such as the Lutheran, the Reformed, the Puritans, and the Presbyterian. Elsewhere, the religious reformation causes, processes, and effects were different; Anglicanism arose in England with the English Reformation, and most Protestant denominations derive from the Germanic denominations. The reformers also accelerated the development of the Counter-Reformation by the Catholic Church.

Since that time, the proliferation of denominational churches spread across the world as Europeans fled religious tyranny and persecution. Even in the last century, denominations have sprouted as a result of difference in doctrine or disputes over opinions.

If ever there was a time to circle the wagons and regroup, it is now. Churches like GracePointe are seeking common ground, looking for the elements of truth in the ways and means of the past. Not all decisions and doctrines of the high churches are counter-productive to the worship and commitment of God’s church. Likewise not all reformation is unhealthy or counter-productive. Being in the position to write the script as we play out the part provides us with a wonderful view of the past with an eye for the future. We can assimilate those parts of the Liturgy that open larger spaces within us for God. We can incorporate Common Prayer that draws us closer to God.

Is there a danger in ala carte church? Of course; without centralized governance any body risks exploitation by the few. Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Most of us know the quotation but few of us know its origin or context.

In 1870, the First Vatican Council announced the doctrine of papal infallibility leading to a severe crisis of faith for many Catholics. Lord Acton, in complete sympathy on the subject with Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger traveled to Rome in an effort to throw his considerable influence against the doctrine.

[Döllinger (February 28, 1799 – January 14, 1890 was a German theologian, Catholic priest, and church historian who rejected the dogma of papal infallibility.]

Acton’s actions did not dissuade the Council and the schism that followed caused the separation and establishment of the Old Catholic movement. Acton did not join the separatists and church authorities wisely refrained from forcing his hand. It is in this context that Lord Acton, in a letter to scholar and ecclesiastic Mandell Creighton, dated April 1887 wrote the now ubiquitous pronouncement:

“But if we might discuss this point until we found that we nearly agreed, and if we do agree thoroughly about the impropriety of Carlylese denunciations and Pharisaism in history, I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means. You would hang a man of no position like Ravaillac; but if what one hears is true, then Elizabeth asked the gaoler to murder Mary, and William III ordered his Scots minister to extirpate a clan. Here are the greatest names coupled with the greatest crimes; you would spare those criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice, still more, still higher for the sake of historical science.”

 So the study and, in some instances the incorporation, of practices dating back as far as the first church brings a call for careful and prayerful consideration. In a church like GracePointe with congregants from divergent fields of religious dogma and discipline, caution and deep reflection must be standard when looking to introduce elements of worship like Ash Wednesday services.

 In an age when Reformer Churches are passing the Ash on street corners in drive by fashion because people are too busy or stressed to celebrate the commencement of Lent by reflectively attending a sacred service dedicated to the pronouncement that Christ is King and we willingly open our lives and hearts to Him leads me to think we may have lost track of the meaning and intent.

I am foursquare with the introduction of Ash Wednesday service to our curriculum and welcome the Season of Lent in preparing for the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord. I am also squarely in the corner of including anyone with a Heart for God into the service. I just wish I could be there. I did get ashed this morning in an amazing Catholic Ash Wednesday Mass.

Love you, Ian Cron. If you haven’t checked out his site, run, don’t walk.

The authors' blogs are their own beliefs in their own words. If you wish to know more about what GracePointe Church believes, visit our main site for more details.