Saturday, March 18, 2017

Synagō

For the Third Sunday in Lent             

He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. (Luke 11:23) 

What does it mean to gather with Christ? It is possible that the word "gather" was meant to convey the idea of kibutz (קָבַץ), a word that the modern world became familiar with because of the early Zionists and the state of Israel. Or it may have been meant to convey adah  (עֵדָה), which means congregation, for which the Greek equivalent is the word ekklēsia (κκλησία), the word translated as "church" in the New Testament. The Greek word actually used in the verse is of great interest, synagō (συνάγω), from which we get the word "synagogue." No matter how we approach it, that verb form of "synagogue," used by Luke when quoting Christ, must bring to mind the assembled local Church.  

It is also significant that this line is recorded in a context about spiritual warfare and the attack of the Kingdom of God, a frontal assault to take back territory formerly siezed by Satan, and to set hostages free. Going back to v. 20, we see that context:  

But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.

And what follows is about spiritual warfare also, with a warning.  

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. (vs. 24-26) 

Gathering with Christ and His Church seems to be one and the same, at the very least inseparable. When on his way to die in a Roman arena, St. Ignatius wrote several letters to various churches (circa 110 AD). Though he knew that he himself would never return to his bishopric in Antioch, he wrote for the good of all churches everywhere and for all generations to come. In his Letter to the Smyrneans, he said: “Wherever the bishop appears let the congregation be present; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”  

The alternative is to be part of a great scattering, a life of isolation where it is all too easy to avoid the clutter of prayer, worship, sacraments and sound doctrine. In that scattering an individual becomes such a house as Christ describes, "swept and garnished," ready for the habitation of evil plus more evil times seven. That last state is worse than the first.  

Koinonia
Another word that is relevant to the subject of gathering with Christ and His Church is the word translated as "fellowship," which is koinōnia (κοινωνία). "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship (κοινωνία) with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." (I John 1:4) Here we see that this fellowship is impossible without the truth of Apostolic doctrine, the word of God in Scripture.

This same word, koinōnia, is translated "communion" speaking very directly of the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion (κοινωνία) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion (κοινωνία) of the body of Christ?" (I Cor. 10:16) 

A form of this word is used also to say we are partakers. That is koinōnos (κοινωνός).  

"But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers (κοινωνός) of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." (I Pet. 4:13) 

"Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers (κοινωνός) of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." (II Pet. 1:4) 

Contrary to that is a kind of fellowship from which we are told to turn away. 

"For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them (Ephesians 5:8-11)." 

In that passage we see a form of the same word translated "fellowship," sygkoinōneō (συγκοινωνω). With what have fellowship, that is communion? The Body and Blood of Christ, or the unfruitful works of darkness? With whom have we fellowship, that is communion? Christ and His Body the Church, or the devil and the world? Choose. 

One can see the skillful use of words in our Service of Holy Communion when we come across such lines as, "humbly beseeching thee, that all we, who are partakers of this holy communion, may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction." The scholars of the Church of England were second to none, and they knew exactly what they were saying in light of the Biblical use of words that formed their thinking. 

We partake, we communicate, we have fellowship; this is with Christ and His Church; and it is across all barriers of time and space. As St. John tells us in the larger context of his words quoted above about our fellowship, going back to the first verse and taking it from the top:  

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (I John 1:1-4)  

Our Synagogue
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Heb. 10:22-25) 

That word "assembling" is a translation of yet another form of the word "synagogue." It is episynagōgē (πισυναγωγή).  

I do not know what value each of you place on the fellowship of God's Church, especially in countries where the choices seem endless, and where it is so free and easy to gather together. Unlike the ancient Christians under the Roman persecution before 313 AD, and unlike many Christians in various countries where the Church suffers persecution, modern western Christians do not take a risk or pay a high price for the opportunity to assemble. But, to understand the value everyone ought to place on the fellowship of God's holy Church, let us summarize the points we have learned in this brief study. 

When we gather as the Church we gather with Christ Himself. If we do not so gather or assemble together, we scatter and become prey for the enemy. If anyone doubts the reality of that peril, let us look at the very next verse from the portion we have quoted of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Vs. 26, 27 tell us, "For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." Why does the writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, warn that forsaking the assembling together of the Church leads to a state of willful sin? Need we really ask this question?

When we gather as the Church we have fellowship. This is not merely social; more than that it is also sacramental and theological. That it is sacramental is obvious, as we have seen from the passage about the communion of Christ's Body and Blood. That it is theological is obvious, because of what John tells us about the doctrine of the Apostles who touched, who heard and who saw the Incarnate Christ (especially as they again touched, heard and saw Him after He had risen from the dead). Our fellowship and communion is in the truth of God's word and it is sacramental. It is with God, and it is with one another. Across barriers of time, we have fellowship with the Apostles themselves by believing their testimony and doctrine; this fellowship is with God and with His Son. We have communion with Christ's Body and Blood; we have fellowship one with another; together we look forward to the day when we may be partakers of the Divine nature. 

I hope you are not planning to sleep late this Sunday.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

THAT DANGEROUSLY SUBVERSIVE CROSS


And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day."

Then the mother of the sons of Zeb'edee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." He said to them, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father." And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." – Matthew 20:17-28 RSV
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For the above quotation I have chosen to use the Revised Standard Version (RSV) translated in the 1950s rather than the Authorized Version of 1611, strictly because I wanted the word “servant” rather than the word “minister.” Granted, in 1611 it was understood that “minister,” as a noun, and “servant” were synonyms, and that “minister” as a verb, and “serve,” were also synonyms. The word translated “servant” in this passage is διακονω (diakoneo) from which we get the English word “deacon.” It may seem doubly ironic that I chose a word other than “minister,” that is, for any who either never knew or have forgotten that when we call a man a deacon it is the same as calling him a servant.    In a sermon I once wrote for Palm Sunday, expounding on the great Christological passage in Philippians chapter two, I related this story: “In a rather unhappy conversation with a man who aspired to be a priest, I asked the question, ‘What is it that you want?’ He answered me, ‘I want to be a priest; in fact, I want to be a bishop.’ He even said, ‘Isn’t it right to want to get to the top of your field?’ I told him that he should forget the whole idea of Holy Orders for himself. I said I would not help him with it at all. I went on to explain to him that this is not about ambition. Every priest, including the Archbishop, is forever a deacon, that is, a servant. He said that he had never heard that before. Had he not read what Saint Paul tells us? ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.’ In fact, that is for everyone.”
          What we see in the Gospel passage, in the way that St. Matthew placed these two events together in succession, is a very clever use of irony by the former tax collector turned Apostle. In the much the same way St. Luke writes about the other passage in which Jesus said much the same thing to the Apostles as in what we read above. That is because, after telling them that He was about to be handed over to the Gentiles, and that one of them would betray Him to the terrible suffering and death that was now upon Him, we read, “And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest (Luke 22:24).”

Lifestyles of the rich and famous – and powerful
          In the 1980s, or perhaps 1990s, a weekly television series caught the attention of people who, as I overheard from time to time, discussed it in their places of employment. The name of the program was Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I never saw it, but I recall people being enraptured about what they had seen. The world, after all, has a value system in which riches, fame and, if I may add one more category, power, are in themselves the zenith of success. Or, to mention the same things, in terms of their spiritual substance, with the words of St. John, “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.”
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (I John 2:15-17).”
          It did not escape Patristic notice how those three things line up with the very first temptation mentioned in scripture. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat (Genesis 3:6).”
          Those things must be overcome in our hearts if we are to be Christ’s disciples. As much as modern Americans see the Church in terms of shopping and selecting only desired items, and as much as the clergy are tempted here to become competing salesmen in this awkward sort of emotional-religious retail, in reality the Church, wherever she is true to her Lord, has but two things: Discipleship and sainthood.
And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch (Acts 11:26).”
“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours (I Corinthians 1:2).”
          The Christian life is a call to sainthood, which means simply holiness. Holiness means two things: Both that we avoid willful sin, and that we cultivate the virtues that grow in us by the grace of God, given to us by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). The only method is discipleship, and we cannot be disciples without taking up, each of us, our own cross and following the Son of Man. “And he said to them all, If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23).”

Blessed Subversion
            It is not possible to be Christ’s disciples if we have the same value system as the World; that is as St. John uses the word “world,” both in the Epistle passage we have read, and in the opening of his Gospel: “He [the Word or Logos] was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not (John 1:10).” In our own time I see a troubling confusion among many American Christians. I have written quite a bit about the problem of churches that are given over to overt heresy, immorality and apostasy. But many American Christians who remain either orthodox, or traditional or Evangelical, demonstrate by their public statements an inability to distinguish between the spirit of the world and the Spirit of Christ. In a world that prizes riches, fame and power, taking up the cross of Christ is entirely contrary. We follow Christus Contra Mundum, that is, in terms of the world’s upside down values, Christ against the world.
          Beginning a few decades ago American Evangelicals began pushing the idea of “Leadership.” In daily mail to the church, among colorful glossy advertisements that I throw away every week are items about conferences with high sounding names like “Raising the Next Generation of Leaders.” How very contrary to the Lord who said, “It shall not be so among you.” Where are the conferences for Raising the Next Generation of Servants? Churches advertise (in a manner most insulting to traditional liturgical churches) their “Passion,” their “Power,” and their “Lively” services – which appear to be mostly entertainment. But disciples have no power in and of themselves, put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3), and must take up the cross daily to overcome themselves.
          The irony about which Matthew and Luke wrote, which Jesus corrected with His words that the greatest among us is a servant, is in striking consistency with the times in which we live. The twentieth century was a time of severe persecution for the Church, and it has grown more so since the turn of the millennium. Every day Christians face persecution, and in many cases poverty. Many are imprisoned, beaten, tortured or killed for their faith. In Touchstone, a Journal of Mere Christianity, every issue presents news about “The Persecuted Church.” How ironic, then, that in modern times many American Christians believe they will be “Raptured” before some seven year period of a “Great Tribulation” comes on the earth. Not only is that idea based upon a very poor interpretation of Scripture, but it is also a clear symptom of moral failure. If the Spirit of Christ is in them, how then can they fail to empathize with their persecuted brothers and sisters who live and suffer in other parts of the world?*
          It is essential that we become utterly subverted, from the world’s upside down point of view, by the cross of Christ. It is impossible to prevail in the spiritual battle unless we accept His call to take up our cross, and follow Him as disciples. We cannot overcome the power of evil by the arm of the flesh, or by the methods of the world. We must despise the value system of the world, and become servants. We must take the lowest place. We cannot overcome the world unless we become incurably subverted by that which is eternal, the Kingdom of God.
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* About that error I have written before. See “Why I want to be Left Behind,” available in our own archives, and also on Virtue Online.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

First Sunday in Lent

II Corinthians 6:1-10  *  Matthew 4:1-11
Pelagius was Britain's first- sadly not last- heretic, and he taught that man was not really dead in trespasses and sins by Adam's transgression. His doctrine was that one could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, and become holy by sheer will power. Never mind everything St. Paul wrote about the weakness of the flesh. Never mind the words of Jesus: "Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world."1 Well, in my lifetime a new kind of Pelagianism captured the imagination of some twentieth century clergy. Because they had embraced, essentially, a quasi-Unitarian view of God, they were unable to accept the Gospel.
          To accept the Gospel you must come to a very simple recognition of fact: Life is not a test. Those who teach, in the name of religion, that life is a test, and at the end you get a passing or failing grade, will never understand the portion of the Gospel according to Matthew that we read this first Sunday in Lent. Like Pelagius of old, his modern followers cannot see that Christ came in the fullness of his divine nature, taking our finite and mortal human nature into his uncreated eternal life. They cannot see that He reached down and saved us from sin and death, that His cross and passion were the sacrifice by which we receive forgiveness of sins, and that He was raised again for our justification; that only by His cross and passion, and glorious resurrection and ascension, are we given life and immortality. They cannot see that He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Life is not a test; it is a shipwreck. Christ did not come to prepare us for a test; He came to rescue us, to pull us out of the sea of sin and death and place our feet on solid ground. If life were a test we would all get an "f" and be cast into Hell. But, the Gospel is this: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."2     
So, the message of today's Gospel is not, "imitate Jesus: if he could do it so can you." Yes, try to imitate Jesus the best you can by doing always what pleases the Father. But, when, not “if” but when, you fail, confess your sins and be forgiven. This is one area in which you cannot imitate Jesus, for he had no sins to repent of. We have no power in ourselves, of ourselves, to save ourselves. The temptations of Jesus in this passage from Matthew are strange to us. They exist on a higher level than the carnality we must wrestle with. I have never been tempted to use divine power to turn stones into bread. Have any of you? I have been tempted to eat when I was fasting, and tempted to satisfy the body in ways that are outside of God's will; but, never to turn stones into bread.  We need to examine these temptations in light of what they were for Christ, and in light of what they mean for us. Two things that come to our aid are from St. Paul. One is the line, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." 3 The other is, "But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many."4          
With these passages in mind, let us think of the temptations Christ endured, first in terms of their meaning in his life, and then what they mean for us. Always remember this; Christ being holy and sinless was not a fallen creature. Modern English usage gives us the mistaken idea that temptation implies something in us that is weak encountering what is alluring to us. But, it simply means, as used here in scripture in its original Greek, that the devil tried to put Christ to the test. Now Jesus was the Word made flesh, the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily among us, fully God and fully man. It was not the fullness of His divine nature shrunken down into humanity, but the raising of human nature into His infinite Divine Person. For us, the temptations that come are common to man. To the holy, righteous savior, born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit instead of the seed of a fallen man, He is the pure and perfect man. These temptations we read about in this chapter of Matthew were not common to man, in one sense, but were common to man in another sense.
The first temptation was this: "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." The temptation was to use His Divine power in a way that was foreign to his very character as God. In everything we see from creation, God always used his power to make, that is, to give. Everything is grace, including life itself. The creation of life, including human life, met no need of God, for God has need of nothing.5 All of God's creative work was because of His love, by which love He gives, seeking nothing for Himself.6 The Son of God came into the world because of God's immeasurable love, with the intention of sharing the humility of a creature, and suffering the death of the cross as the Atonement, that which no sinner could make either for himself or as a ransom for his brother. The will of God foretold by the Prophets, that Christ rose again on third day, was for our sakes; by His resurrection He meets our greatest need, the gift of eternal life to save us from the full power of the grave. With mighty signs and wonders He went about "doing good, healing all who were oppressed by the Devil."7 But, here, in the desert wilderness after forty days of fasting, He was tempted by the Devil to use miraculous power strictly for Himself. But, that creative power had only been used in charity, that is, agape- the love of God.         
The second temptation was to throw Himself down from the temple, that is, to put the truth itself on trial. It is this temptation that demonstrates the cunning of Satan in his misuse of the very scriptures themselves. Notice how he misquotes the Psalm, taking it out of its context that teaches us not to fear death as an ultimate power, so that its meaning is reduced to something no bigger than this mortal life. Notice too the addition of three words not in the real Psalm: "lest thou strike thy foot against a stone" becomes, in the Devil's mouth, "lest at any time thou strike thy foot against a stone." At any time?  The condition is taken away, and the promise mis-stated. This temptation was to place the word of God on trial, and to do so by using an arbitrary and false measure, one forbidden by the Law itself, namely, testing God. 
The final temptation is subtle indeed. "The devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto Him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." It is the plan of God that all nations serve and obey Christ when he comes in His kingdom 8. When He comes again in glory, this will happen, and will happen in a way far beyond our present ability to perceive. Understand the nature of this temptation for what it was: This temptation was to avoid the cross. Remember one day, as we read later on in the Gospel According to St. Matthew, when the Lord predicted his coming suffering and death, that Peter, "…took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.' But He turned, and said unto Peter, 'Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.'"9      
The temptation was to arrive early at the goal by abandoning the Father's will, by avoiding the suffering and death which alone could reconcile man to God without any compromise of His holiness, and which in making sacrifice also shows the seriousness of our sins to change us morally. Retire early, avoid the suffering, do not take up the cross. Such a decision would have been to turn away from the Father indeed.      

In fact, there was no danger that Christ would yield to this. But we see important things for our own edification. The book of Genesis describes the Fall this way:


"And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat."10 


Look at these three things: 1) Good for food. 2) Pleasant to the eyes. 3) Desired to make one wise. Compare this to the words of St. John:


"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."11  


Compare the two lists: "Good for food" to "the lust of the flesh." We forget that the lust of the flesh is not only sexual lusts and passions, but also all other things that drag us away from God because of their direct effect on the desires of the body. This includes abuse of sex and of food, but also, for example, the abuse of drugs and alcohol that destroys lives and families. Beyond the obvious, read the fifth chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians about "the works of the flesh" that are the opposite of "the fruit of the Spirit."
          Compare "Pleasant to the eyes" with "the lust of the eyes." Remember the words of St. Paul: "For I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet."12 The lust of the eyes is what Jesus spoke of when He said that it is the sin of adultery to look on a woman to lust after her. He was simply driving home the point already in the Law of Moses, in the tenth Commandment: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, etc."13 The lust of the eyes is never content with the gifts that God has given, and is the opposite of that love that "seeketh not her own." It wants more, even if your neighbor is deprived or diminished. The lust of the eyes does not give thanks to God for what He has given, but finds fault with Him for not trying to spoil us to our seemingly infinite satisfaction – that bottomless pit of increasing desire. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content  with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee."14 Giving in to the lust of the eyes is like drinking seawater. It never satisfies, and indeed, each drink of the seawater (that is, saltwater) only makes one thirstier and thirstier, leading to death by dehydration, and only after madness.


Compare "it was desired to make one wise" to "the pride of life." Pride requires an illusion. The truth makes a man humble. The truth is the very opposite of Pelagianism; for the fact is, you cannot go one day without committing sins if only in your thoughts. The truth is, you cannot keep your own soul alive. The truth is contrary to "Motivational Seminars," which teach the sin of pride a thousand different ways. Every day, in every way, it is not getting better and better; no not at all. You are aging, and as your eyes fail, and your hair gets gray or falls out, and your skin wrinkles, you are reminded that, however long you live, the body is subject to the dying process 15. This is part of the Fall. Pride says life must be a test, and we can pass it. Humility says, "God I have earned no better than an a failing grade. Save me from sin and death." A man trying to stay afloat in a shipwreck has no time to impress anybody; he must, with the humility that realism brings, accept salvation from his rescuer.   Christ overcame the things that are in the world. "The world" in this sense, that has only these three sinful categories: The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. The world, in that sense, is best described in the first chapter of John's Gospel: "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." The world is fallen into the state of not knowing its Creator, even in His Incarnation.16  This season of Lent, learn the humility to take seriously these three enemies: The world, the Flesh and the Devil. Learn to fight the temptations that come through "the things that are in the world." Jesus used the scriptures, the sword of the Spirit; so, you need to know the word of God, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it.17 The disciplines of Lent are useful indeed. Fasting is a way to humble our souls before God,18 and giving is away to show gratitude to the Lord.



Let us have a holy Lent, knowing that without Him, we can do nothing.19




1) John 8:23

2) John 3:17

3) I Corinthians 10:13

4) Romans 5:15
5) Acts 17:25
6) I Corinthians 13:5
7) Acts 10:38
8) Psalm 2
9) Matthew 16:22, 23
10) Genesis 3:4-6
11) I John 2:15-17
12) Romans 7:7
13) Cp. Exodus 20:17 to Matthew 5:28
14) Hebrews 13:5
15) See my sermon for Trinity XVI.
16) John 1:10
17) Ephesians 6:17, in context.
18) Psalm 35:18
19) John 15:5

Friday, February 24, 2017

Quinquagesima

For a sermon click here
For a timely study click here.

About Church Growth

Before he was consecrated and made the Bishop of the Diocese of the Holy Trinity in the ACC-OP, The Right Reverend Stephen Scarlett wrote this article. It has been posted on Virtue Online ever since. At the time Bishop Scarlett was Father Scarlett, and was serving as rector of St. Matthew's Church and School in Newport Beach, California.

Church Growth and Evangelism in the Anglican Catholic Church
The Right Reverend Stephen C. Scarlett

Introduction. Archbishop Haverland has commissioned us to begin an American initiative to promote the growth of our churches and the planting of new churches. The intent is for this to complement our mission efforts in other countries.

The issue to be addressed. Some Anglican Catholic churches are growing and some have built churches. But a large, perhaps majority number of our parishes exist in a steady or declining state. The typical congregation is faithful but older. There is a struggle to replace those who die or move and an even greater struggle to begin Sunday schools and other programs aimed at youth.

Before we can look for answers, we need to reflect upon the cause of our current condition. One contributing factor is the non-evangelical nature of the Anglo Catholic tradition as we have received it in the ACC. This is not a characteristic of Anglo Catholicism per se. For example, one can read the book, Glorious Battle, by John Sheldon Reed to see the very evangelical nature of many post Oxford Movement Anglo Catholics.

What is meant by the word evangelical? The Affirmation of St. Louis calls us to an "evangelical witness." This refers to a concern for the salvation and welfare of the world outside of our parish walls. More particularly, it refers to a concern for conversion of hearts to faith in Jesus Christ and a desire to instruct believers in the faith–to "make disciples."

One reason we have not been evangelically oriented is that evangelism was not the primary cause for which the ACC was founded in events of 1977-78 in St. Louis and Denver. The primary concern at our inception was to maintain the Faith that had been abandoned by the Episcopal Church. There was great and necessary concern to define and guard the parameters of Orthodoxy.
Many of the founding clergy of the ACC had, for many years, fought the battle against both low church attacks on the fullness of the faith and heretical attacks on the essentials of the faith. They held on to and bequeathed to us a church, but it was not their vocation and gift to shift gears and evangelize in the new world the ACC faced.

Most of the clergy who gathered for the events of St. Louis and Denver (1977-1978) were raised in the 1940's-1970's, which was a vastly different religious world that we now face. It was a world in which mainline denominations were strong and people identified with them. It was a world in which many were raised in a church. It was a world in which a man could go to seminary for three years and then expect to find a job in the church upon graduation. The ACC has in many ways continued to train men for ministry in the church that was.

In the years immediately following the 1978 consecrations, two others things undermined evangelism. First, the response to the Continuing Church was less than anticipated. There was expectation that thousands would join in a wave of enthusiasm over the new, orthodox Anglican alternative. Instead, thousands stayed put or stayed home. Also, many who came brought conflict. The raging battle of their former church became the defining feature of their new parish.

Second, there were internal divisions and fights among the Anglicans at the beginning and in subsequent chapters of the history. Those who were present know that sometimes issues of principle were at stake. However, the prospective converts did not know this. In the Acts of the Apostle we are constantly told how the unity of the church was foundation for its growth. Evangelism is always undermined by disunifying conflict. It instills a contentious attitude in those parishes that are involved in the conflict. All parish energy is sapped by the conflict so that there is no energy left for ministry. The very issue itself, whatever it is, tends to instill a more inward focus.

The net effect of the things outlined above is that, while ACC parishes are typically confident about the faith they hold, the are also typically uncertain about how to share this faith in their community.

Towards an evangelical Anglo Catholicism. We must begin by putting all past disappointments and conflicts behind us. Few who would be members of our parishes care about our old battles. Even fewer care about how it was done in St. Swithins in 1955. As Archbishop Cahoon once said, "We don't have time to waste answering questions that no one is asking."

The good news is that we are also freed from these things. Because we have made our break with heresy and are clear about our theological positions, we do not have to be stuck fighting or rehashing old battles. We can present our faith to the world around us in positive terms, in terms of what it is in its fullness. This will take a conscious change. Some of our clergy and people are more comfortable fighting the old battles than doing the work of an evangelist.

Meanwhile, the world around us has moved on in at least some positive ways. The 60's-70's reaction against tradition has become a return to tradition in the 21st century. There are young people out there who will embrace the whole faith if it is presented to them in an evangelical way. One of the delightful ironies I have witnessed is watching a college age convert to Anglicanism bringing his evangelical church parents to the liturgy. The traditional Christian is now the rebel against the established church of the nondenominational seeker and the established religion of secularism.

The ACC is positioned to welcome converts looking for a return to tradition. However, people will not come simply because we are there. And if they do come they will not stay in a church that is content to be a museum dedicated to the preservation of period Anglicanism. We must realize that change is necessary–perhaps a revolution.

Essential aspects of parish evangelism. The following comments are not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of what to do. But the following points are central and may at least begin the discussion.

1. From maintenance to mission. The first change that must take place is a transformation from concern about church maintenance to concern about the mission of the church. Being satisfied that we rightly performed the liturgy, balanced the budget and paid all the bills for one more year is not good enough. We must want to make new disciples.

We must begin to ask questions like, What is our mission and ministry in this community? How will we go about the business of asking people to come? How will we go about welcoming them when they do? What is our program for teaching the faith to newcomers? When will we have our Bible Studies? Who will teach them? What other programs do we want to offer?

We must believe that a growing ministry can take place in our churches–that God can do remarkable things among us. Much of our ministry is undermined by an unspoken attitude that says, "This is all we can be." The beginning of evangelism among us is faith that God has called us to do something and boldness to do it in new challenging ways.

2. All genuine efforts at evangelism begin with prayer. Without a serious church-wide commitment to pray about God's will for the parish and for parish growth, all efforts will be wasted. We are saved by grace and not by works. Each parish that wants to change should identify a core group of members that is willing to address the issue. The newly formed "Missions Committee" should begin with a study of Acts 1 and 2. The early church began in the upper room praying for the Holy Spirit to come. The first thing the Christians did was to pray and wait. The first thing a parish should do is pray and wait.

At St. Matthews in the mid 1990's, we set aside Tuesday nights for prayer and discussion about evangelism. We had evening prayer with special intercessions for the growth of our parish. We asked people to fast habitually as they prayed. After prayer, we discussed things we might do. Some hair-brained and almost heretical ideas were surfaced and rejected, but a sense of common calling came out of the prayer and discussion over time. The beginning of evangelism is to begin to ask and pray about the question.

The essential question we discussed was: Since people will not understand the liturgy coming in off the streets, how can we open other doors of entry? We ended up doing various things. The Alpha Course, dinners with seasonal themes, periodic evensong and dinners and an inquirer's classes. Each parish can discern, by prayer and discussion, what things might work in its particular setting.

3. Evangelism must be rooted in personal invitation. The key to any evangelistic endeavor is invitation. You must invite people to come to your church. All church studies make it clear that in excess of 80% of all new church members joined because someone invited them. DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME TALKING ABOUT ADS. Go ahead and put an advertisement in the paper and in the Yellow Pages. Put it in and forget about it. It will get you an occasional visitor. That is it.
In terms of bang for the buck, web sites are much more effective than traditional newspaper advertisements. Young people routinely shop for and find things on the internet. If you become serious about evangelism, you will also become serious about developing a first class, missions oriented website.

However, the fact remains, YOU MUST INVITE PEOPLE TO COME TO YOUR CHURCH. You encounter God at your church. Why wouldn't someone you know also find God there? (If you don't encounter God at your church, the first step is to remedy that.) Once church members become willing and prayerful about inviting people, God will provide opportunities.

4. Develop non liturgical doors of entry. As you invite, you must remember that the liturgy is not meant to convert those who do not believe. Hence, it is better to invite people to things that are more accessible as a way of introduction to the parish. When people do come to the liturgy, there should be notice given of the next inquirer's class. It should be made clear that no one is expected to understand the liturgy on their first visit, but it should also be clear that the church offers a pathway to understanding–that we want visitors to know what we know.

5. Your membership is your first mission field. The whole apparatus of the church must be oriented towards spiritual growth. The life of prayer, centered on the daily offices and the Bible lectionary, must be promoted and practiced by the clergy and leading lay people. Promote the prayer book as a rule of life, not as a quaint historical artifact. Let parish discussion center on a common dialogue about the lectionary and spiritual growth–and not about church politics.

Many people who consider themselves to be traditional or catholic are still in need of greater conversion of the heart. Many people in our churches know the outward form of our religion but not its power to change lives. Aim at internal transformation first.

For many parishes, the first step in evangelism is to look at what is going on in the parish. What is our church all about? What are we inviting people to join? How would a neutral observer assess what we are doing? Is our church the kind of church that someone can join so as to grow in faith? Or is our church majoring in the minor things? Self-assessment leading to change will be the necessary starting point for evangelism in many places

6. There must be emphasis on the Bible. The Bible must be the main source of the churches teaching and preaching, and both must be aimed at conversion of the heart. Personal Bible reading and study must be emphasized. All evangelism is Bible centered; what was worthy in the English Reformation was its biblical emphasis. One of the greatest problems with modern Christians is that they learn their patterns of thinking from the newspaper and pop-psychology and not the Bible.

7. The ministry of the church must be based on the spiritual gifts of the members. We have used the book, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, by Peter Wagner. It was recommended by Brother John Charles. It contains a spiritual gifts inventory that enables each member to discover his gifts. A gift-based ministry follows simple logic. By finding out what gifts God has placed in a certain church, we can find out what ministry God is calling that church to carry out.

For example, at St. Matthew's in the 1990's, our evangelism committee took the inventory. We discovered that no one had the gift for evangelism.–at least not in the sense of calling crowds of people to come to Jesus. But we discovered that many had gifts for hospitality and teaching. This has been the focus of our evangelism. A church can only know what God is calling it to do by knowing what kinds of gifts he has placed in it.

A gift-based ministry stands opposite of clericalism. If the task does not require a priest, find a gifted layman. The priest should encourage the ministries of others. The priest who micro-manages every aspect of the church hinders its growth.

8. Women should be also encouraged to exercise their gifts. We are clear that there are no women bishops, priests and deacons, but the Bible is clear that women have gifts that aid the body's growth, which include pastoral and teaching gifts. Ministry by women to women is especially important. Whether we like it or not, the fact in our culture is that the mother more often that not determines where the family goes to church.

9. Emphasize what is legitimately catholic. What is catholic is what has been believed everywhere always and by all. However, many churches hold as essential and catholic certain practices that were unknown in the church before the early to mid twentieth century. What is genuinely catholic will speak to people in a genuinely universal way. But the strange invention of 1952 that has become the litmus test of a catholic is a given parish will not speak to anyone but those already there. Consider getting rid of it.

This is sacred and controversial ground, but it must be tread upon in our discussion about mission. For example, I have seen parishes insist that their way of doing the liturgy is the most "catholic" way. But the only sure thing that could be said is this "catholic" liturgy is done that particular way NOWHERE ELSE IN ALL THE WORLD. When the most peculiar thing becomes the most catholic, we are worlds away from St. Vincent of Lerin–and from mission.

10. Get rid of programs that don't work. Do not continue with a particular program, schedule or event merely because "We have always done it this way." With regard to non-essentials, be willing to turn things upside down to promote healthy change–like Jesus did. It is very helpful for a church to have an annual or semi-annual leadership meeting to review what the church is doing.

11. Build the ministry of the church around the committed and willing and do not encourage or cater to the complainers. Find people in the parish who want to see evangelism and growth and who are willing to work, pray and give for it. Build the ministry around them. Put them in positions of leadership. Discourage those whose primary ministry seems to be that of criticism or ensuring no new thing is ever done. Do not cater to them nor put them in important positions. It is not good for them or the church.

12. Realize that evangelism in an Anglican context takes patience and perseverance. Our model will not be the doubling of a church every year. The commitment to pray for growth must be seen as a long term commitment. The conversation about evangelism must be ongoing. The horizon of answered prayer may be years. You will ask God to lead you in evangelism. God will ask you if you are serious by testing your perseverance.

13. We must put a significant emphasis on education. Our late Archbishop Stevens said that, in his experience, "a parish never rises above the educational level of its clergy." Clergy who have read for orders or have been educated in unaccredited Anglican houses of study should consider going back to school to pursue a master's level theological degree. The opportunities in each area differ, but most parts of the country have seminaries where classes can be taken in the evening and on line. Many of our clergy need more education in the areas of scripture, history and pastoral theology among other things. Many will not be effective in missions in our culture without more training.

In the first generation of the Continuing Church, many were hurried into ministry, with inadequate education, because it was thought that church needed someone "right now." In many places much damage was done. In other places, the lack of education limited the growth of the mission or church. In every case I am aware of, a better result would have been achieved by insisting that the person take the time to get the education. In our situation, the best model may be some program of Anglican Studies leading to ordination as deacon; and then an extended diaconate of several years while the man finishes an accredited master's degree. This policy is, of course, way beyond the concern of the missions committee. But we are kidding ourselves if we ignore the connection between clergy education and the potential of our parishes.

Lay education should also be stressed. There are educational opportunities for lay people in various seminaries. We should aim for active lay ministries.

Towards a method of implementation. I hope for input from others to greatly refine the comments made above and to expand the discussion into other areas with the goal of having a sort of how to book for the ACC.

It is probably necessary to have some regular gathering to focus on these things. However, the new form must not be the grab bag of ideas that characterized the old evangelism congresses. Rather, the new form must be presented by those who know what needs to be done and how to do it. Any new church-wide gathering would be preceded by a gathering of clergy and laity who would work out the form of training in advance. Or, it may be that the new form will be worked out in particular churches that are willing to do new things or in newly planted churches.
Some clergy may be hostile to the initiative for a while. That is okay. Nobody should be forced to do anything. However, by emphasis, this hostility should decrease and eventually disappear in ten to twenty years. The churches that are not interested may not be around that long anyway.

Concluding thoughts. The necessary revolution is not primarily about the faith or the liturgy. The revolution we need must deal with attitudes and habits of behavior that surround our practice of the faith and our worship. We must cease being content to be what we are for ourselves and realize that Christ has brought us into being to be the light of the world. The call to evangelism is a call to walk away from the mirror and to begin to look out the window at the world around us.