Friday, July 22, 2016

The Prodigal Son Ninth Sunday after Trinity

I Cor. 10:1-13 * Luke 15:11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal Son could as well be called The Waiting Father, and it could also be called The Elder Brother. Each of the main characters is necessary to the story. This was the third parable in this chapter, and each tells the same story. One is the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep and searches for the lost sheep until he finds it, and the other is the woman who searches until she finds the lost silver coin. Then this longer and more compelling story of the father who loses his son, and then receives him back. Make no mistake, these are all really one story. The loss of one person to sin and death is revealed to be God’s own loss; hence there is joy in the presence of the angels of God when the sinner repents, that is, the joy of God beheld by the angels (spoken in our terms to reveal the great mystery of God’s love for fallen mankind, and of that particular love for each one who is lost).

Does anyone anywhere fail to understand the prodigal son himself? Can any of us look at the warnings that St. Paul draws from the Old Testament (in today's Epistle) without a conviction of sin? Does anyone really fail to understand the people of Israel in the wilderness? I know that complaining or murmuring, idolatry and lusts can all be frightening subject matter, and that in one sense the promise that we will never be tempted to sin without a divinely appointed escape, can be just as troubling as it comforting. It is comforting to us to realize we can face the temptations of the future because God provides the escape; but, it also means that our past failure to take that escape makes each of us all the more culpable- doesn’t it? I did not need to study sin as a theological subject in order to understand it. I have to study holiness in order to understand it, and faith and everything to do with the virtues that only grow in us when we walk in the Holy Ghost. But, sin I understood only too well, and the only thing study could offer for that subject was to clarify the facts, all of which came easily. Have any of us lived without the realization that we have wasted the goodness of God on very unworthy and temporal things.

Anyone who does not identify with the prodigal son as the sinner who comes to his senses and begins to return to his father’s house, either has yet to come to his senses and begin to return to God (whether or not a member of the Church in good standing), or is living in self deception. Listen to the words of St. John the Apostle:

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (I John 1:7-10)

Yes, all of us, especially the most devout and believing, should identify readily with the prodigal son who came to himself, and returned home.

Then we come to another character, the elder brother. I have no doubt that Jesus had the Pharisees in mind, those who believed they were righteous and despised others, and who were critical of the Lord’s willingness to go into the home of a sinner as the physician goes to the sick- that is, to restore them to health. The elder brother has his own priorities, none of which are in harmony with the love his father has for the lost brother, that is, his lost son. Furthermore, the elder brother does not realize that by this very attitude he is every bit as far away from his father’s heart as his brother is from his father’s house. He too is estranged from his father, but deceives himself by thinking that it is enough that he is at home. And, simply by living at home he believes he does enough, though never standing with his father who watches and waits for the lost son, and never sharing in his father’s pain and tears, and finally, not rejoicing when his father rejoices.

What is enough for us? Is it enough to be involved with the business and activities of the Church? Is it enough to be active in its plans? How important is it for us to seek out lost souls and help them return home to the father’s house? When people come in faith and are welcomed back by the Father, are we full of joy? Do any of us dare to judge whether these people who come are the “right sort” of people, that is, “people like us?” Is it more important that the Church make us happy, even if that means that it does not grow? 

I have seen plenty of elder brothers, individuals who don’t want to mix with the wrong sort of people in Church, and who would not want to be in Heaven with such people. Remember the man in The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, who would not enter Heaven because he saw there a notorious sinner, in fact a murderer. His objection was that he didn’t need the “bleeding mercy.” But, the repentant man, who had been a murderer and was now redeemed and among the saints in light, pleaded with him that the bleeding mercy was exactly what he needed. But, the man returned to the gray city, that is Hell, rather than associate with the kind of rabble who had been welcomed into the Father’s House.

First John the Baptist, and then the Lord Himself, called upon the most notorious sinners to repent. Jesus spoke often of such notorious people as tax collectors and prostitutes who had repented at the preaching of John, and at His own preaching, and were now following Him. Boldly, He goes to the home of Matthew the tax collector, and later to the home of Zacchaeus, always bringing sinners to repentance. He allows the sinful woman to wash His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair, over the unspoken but real objection of his Pharisee host. The people with whom He had conflict, however, were the Pharisees, the religious hypocrites who disapproved of the Lord’s mercy on repentant sinners. For some people it is more important to feel superior to others than to become acquainted with the Father’s heart.

Finally, here is the father in the story. When we think of the Trinity it helps to remember how St. Paul speaks of the main attribute we know in our relationship with each Divine Person; each an attribute that is Divine, but each revealed more clearly in identification with what we are taught about each of the Persons. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” (II Cor. 13:14) We cannot understand the Father as He is revealed unless we identify Him primarily with love, that is agape or charity. It is this love that is revealed in and by His Son, most powerfully and manifestly on the cross. Throughout eternity it is the scars of His Passion, still visible in the resurrected Christ, that will always remind us of the love of God, whereby He gave His only begotten Son for us. It is that love manifested by the Son of God as he took away sin and conquered death.

The prodigal son does not ask for his due as a son, and would settle for being only a mere hired servant. Such is true repentance. The Father restores the lost son, slays the fatted calf to celebrate, and has his own joy, the joy of receiving back a son who was lost and is found, was dead and is alive again. The grace of God meets us on better terms than we can ask, extends forgiveness that is, itself, prodigal but never exhausted. This parable teaches us that by the grace of God in Jesus Christ and the love of God shed abroad within us by the Holy Ghost, we must remain in the Father’s house, and also come close to the Father’s heart for the lost.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Why Sex is Making us Morally Stupid

A reader of my Touchstone articles has written a excellent blog post. I recommend it.

"In this, I think Jesus has also spoken an irony—it is not only that the pure will see God, but those who set their gaze upon God who will be rendered pure. The solution is to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto the ultimate source of goodness, truth, and beauty."

Read it here

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Apostolic Church

The Nicene/ Constantinopolitan Creed says, "I believe One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." Because of a printer's error the word "Holy" has not appeared in the Book of Common Prayer, but "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church" is said at least twice a day in the Daily Morning and Evening Prayer; so we profess all four of these facts about the Church. In this essay I want to focus on what it means to believe the Apostolic Church.

Before I undertake to write this, my recent interest in writing an apologetic for the polity that has always been Continued by us as the only polity known to orthodox Anglicanism, and the only kind consistent with all Canon Law of Anglican churches throughout history, and with the Church of England since its inception, is due to confusion regarding the origin of the episcopacy and the needless question of presbyteral ordinations. I say needless because only episcopal ordinations have been recognized in Anglicanism as conferring the authority to act as a member of the three orders of ministry mentioned in the Preface to the Ordinal. This leaves us only with ecumenical considerations about how far we may go in relations with Protestant churches such as the Presbyterians. That Anglicans have any other reason for asking such a question is contrary to all evidence from Canon Law, The idea of it as a pressing issue within our churches is a false issue. 

It may be that some of the readers of this will want to provide quotations from famous Anglicans who were willing to admit to the possibility of such ordinations among other churches. To that I say three things. Even if there has been varied opinion among Anglicans it does not change the rules, practice and even doctrine of Anglicanism. The Ordinal gives no room to any but episcopal ordinations. Second, any such quotations ought to be examined only in context and considered in limitation to the immediate reason for what was stated. Third, Anglicans have always understood that a line is to be drawn between validity and efficacy in this regard: We must act according to what is certainly valid, but for ecumanical relationships have no interest in declaring, as Rome does, other ministries to be "absolutely null and utterly void." God is free to work His grace without everything that we are bound to do, as He may will. But, at no time has any Anglican Canon allowed for violating the rule of recognizing, for us, only ministers with episcopal ordination in our churches. To presume that this is unrelated to theology makes no logical sense. 

The Greek word Apostolos (ἀπόστολος) is a very strong word, meaning that one is sent by a person in authority to act, where he is sent, with the authority of the sender himself. This is very important, and has everything to do with the authority Jesus gave to His Apostles. The Apostolic Jurisdiction is the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20). Among those who denounce our polity are voices that say, "there is no direct command from the Lord that gives the episcopal office its historic role and authority." In fact, this is an argument from silence. But, as we shall find from historical fact, we cannot say that the Lord is not the Author of the episcopal office with its specific authority and charisms. Bearing in mind the amount of authority in men called apostles of any ruler, especially Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, to act with the Lord's own authority in a worldwide jurisdiction, remember the following words.

"He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me." (Matthew 10:40)

"Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent (apostellō, ποστλλωme, even so send I you." (John 20:21)



(The second of those verses will be of great significance when we get to the writing of St. Ignatius of Antioch.) For those who question when and where the Lord Himself has spoken, and for noble Bereans who require biblical evidence, I proceed by building on those words of Christ from the Gospels.  

The questions of essence, bene esse, juro divino, etc. should all be answered by the historical evidence concerning what the Apostles did. The Church, instead of asking all sorts of academic questions about what is possible within the limitless sphere of God's direct working, ought to consider that whatever the Apostles taught, however they ordered, and whatever they ruled in their judgment, has been given to the Church as coming from Jesus Christ. We may be sure they were directed by the Holy Spirit. Passing judgment on others or trying to determine if they may have some validity in a wide sphere of unknowable possibilities, and without Roman arrogance and presumption of labeling ministries "absolutely null and utterly void" of God's grace, especially simply because "he followeth not with us," is not our burden to bear. But neither is it legitimate for us to disregard the clear teaching and practice that we trace to the ancient catholic doctors and bishops. Here I will use a phrase that no Anglican has business disputing, but that some have presumed to dispute, Apostolic Succession.

Ironically, the term is quite likely used for the first time in a famous letter by St. Jerome, writing of all bishops the following:

"It is not the case that there is one church at Rome and another in all the world beside. Gaul and Britain, Africa and Persia, India and the East worship one Christ and observe one rule of truth. If you ask for authority, the world outweighs its capital. Wherever there is a bishop, whether it be at Rome or at Engubium, whether it be at Constantinople or at Rhegium, whether it be at Alexandria or at Zoan, his dignity is one and his priesthood is one. Neither the command of wealth nor the lowliness of poverty makes him more a bishop or less a bishop. All alike are successors of the apostles." (Jerome's Letter to Evangelus)

Ironically, some have taken this letter to be an apologetic for Presbyterianism, and a careless reading with a few lines taken out of the context of the whole, can indeed give that false impression. The preceding sentence is what they quote.

"For even at Alexandria from the time of Mark the Evangelist until the episcopates of Heraclas and Dionysius the presbyters always named as bishop one of their own number chosen by themselves and set in a more exalted position, just as an army elects a general, or as deacons appoint one of themselves whom they know to be diligent and call him archdeacon. For what function, excepting ordination, belongs to a bishop that does not also belong to a presbyter?"

Because this paragraph deals with the origin of the episcopate, they argue that it was a creation of presbyters themselves, and they presume contrary to all the historical evidence about ecclesiastical praxis, that this election process was sufficient without any consecration from any bishop. But the quotation never even implies that an election held by the presbytery takes the place of consecration, and the hypothetical question, "For what function, etc.?" proves that Jerome meant to imply no such thing, as is quite obvious. Knowing the practice of the ancient Church, as recorded too many times to dismiss, we must conclude that the presbytery did not presume the power to themselves consecrate their fellow to the office of bishop simply by having elected him. We know from other sources that episcopal elections were quite normal throughout antiquity, but that a bishop elect could not act as a bishop prior to the laying on of hands by at least one other bishop, in time the norm being by three bishops. All the sentence speaks of is the election process itself, and why the office of bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, epískopos) was separated at that time in history from the office of Presbyter  (πρεσβύτερος, presbyteros). 

More importantly, when was this decided? To begin with, the sentence, so often abused and dragged out of context, is not even speaking of the Church beyond Alexandria. Furthermore, it is quite apparent that St. Mark, who, as we see in the Book of Acts, had been a companion of Paul and Barnabas, later with Barnabas and praised by Paul writing to Timothy, the author of the Gospel that bears his name, was alive and well, and present in Alexandria. And in the sentence that follows, Jerome says that all bishops are "successors of the Apostles." For anyone to drag this letter out, and dust it off, as some argument against the historic fact of Apostolic Succession, is indeed ironic and self-defeating.

The logical conclusion is that the Church catholic has gotten it right all along. Though in the earliest days, as is quite evident in the New Testament, the office of presbyter was one and the same as the office called, at the time, bishop (Acts 20:28, Titus 1:5,7),  which is something no one has ever denied, it was after a while the Apostles themselves who separated the office of presbyter from that of the episcopate. It became the rule in their time, and could not have been decided by any others. Indeed, it was the presbyterian office that developed rather than the episcopal office. To the episcopal office alone belongs the power to ordain, and the bishop has authority to command obedience from the presbyters and deacons. 

We come now to a very important figure in history, the martyr St. Ignatius of Antioch. He was the bishop of the Church where disciples were first called Christians, that is Antioch in Syria. On his way to Rome to be martyred in an arena, he wrote several epistles that are included in a collection called The Apostolic Fathers. Ignatius, like Polycarp, learned directly from the Apostles themselves, having learned firsthand from no less of an authoritative source than those whom Christ sent as He Himself had been sent by the Father, the men to whom Jesus had said that they would be guided by the Spirit of Truth into all truth (John 16:13), those in whose doctrine we must remain steadfast. It is of no small significance, therefore, the several things Ignatius wrote in those epistles concerning the office of bishop.

"See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. Moreover, it is in accordance with reason that we should return to soberness [of conduct], and, while yet we have opportunity, exercise repentance towards God. It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil. Let all things, then, abound to you through grace, for you are worthy. You have refreshed me in all things, and Jesus Christ [shall refresh] you. You have loved me when absent as well as when present. May God recompense you, for whose sake, while you endure all things, you shall attain unto Him." (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, chapters 8 and 9)

The words "so that everything that is done may be secure and valid" give Anglicanism its logical basis for insisting on episcopacy, and having always done so as the only Anglican polity ever or anywhere. Recently someone retorted to the very mention of the name of Ignatius, with some quotation by an obscure "scholar," to the effect that Ignatius never said anywhere that the episcopate was established by the Lord. In light of the above quotation (and others like it), and in light of the fact that Jesus sent His Apostles as the Father had sent Him, and in light of the very definition of Apostolos, I cannot take such a "scholarly" objection at all seriously, and neither should you. It is utterly meaningless at best.

I could call further witnesses, such as Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, and later Irenaeus. Frankly, I could call as witness the whole Church catholic in antiquity and the most ancient catholic doctors and bishops. Recognition of presbyteral ordinations for our churches is neither secure nor valid, as it is done without the bishop. So taught the disciple of the Apostles. The Apostolic Succession of bishops, is unquestionable and indisputable.

Finally, it is not sufficient to speak of these things strictly in terms of laws and authority as men understand it. In recent years I see that apostate "churches," especially in America the Episcopal Church, have come to prefer the term "Historic Episcopate" to Apostolic Succession. I believe that this is clearly because the latter carries with it a weight of doctrine that they transgress shamelessly (Acts 2:42, II Timothy 2:2), and also the charismatic power that they have forfeited. They hold a form of godliness, denying the power thereof. From such turn away (II Timothy 3:5). For true believers, understand that we must believe the Apostolic Church, and in saying that realize that God uses the Bishop, when strange doctrines are banished and the truth is taught, and by his charism as bishop, in making the whole Church Apostolic.