Friday, April 21, 2006

A Battle for Souls

This sermon was preached by Fr Mathew Kirby at the Mass for the Enthronement of Archbishop Mark Haverland as Metropolitan of the Anglican Catholic Church (Original Province), held during the Provincial Synod, October 2005, at Grand Rapids, Michigan.

+ As members of the ACC, it's easy for us to feel like a small but faithful remnant. Seemingly isolated and beleaguered, it's us against the world. Sometimes, it even seems like us against the rest of the Church. But this is not the truth of the matter.

It is important to see that we are part of something bigger. Our raison d'etre is not fundamentally about fighting for preserving English heritage or avoiding women clergy.

We are engaged in a battle for souls against the world, against a secular culture of rebellion and scorn, and its agents “inside” the Church. Our true enemy, though, is Satan, otherwise it would be impossible to explain the one link between all these disparate symptoms: The Da Vinci Code and the unquestioning “faith” it engenders in so many readers; anti-clerical stereotypes in movies such as Million Dollar Baby; New Age occultism; pseudo-scientific populist defences of atheism; total separation of Church and State (for which read abolishing God from public discourse); values clarification and sex ed in schools; radical, misanthropic (i.e., humanity-hating) environmentalism, etc.

What is the link between all of these? Disdain for the Church and orthodox Christianity. The Church is said to be to blame for everything that ills society. Radical leftists and libertarian rightists, atheist rationalists and superstitious New Agers, feminists and Muslim extremists who force their women to wear the burka, these can only agree on one thing: Christianity is the enemy. Whether it be the environmentalists who think any interference with nature is evil or the scientific researchers who think that any obstruction to such interference is obscurantism, they are all quite sure that it is the Christians who are getting in the way of their paradise on Earth.

Human-based conspiracy theories cannot account for this confluence of malice. And unless we realise that our battle is not against flesh and blood, i.e., human beings, but against principalities and powers, we will simply return malice for malice and misrepresent the Gospel, becoming locked in a cycle of hate that prevents us bringing the heavenly light of grace and mercy to a deceived and deceiving world.

And … we do have allies in this fight. The Church is bigger than us. We are Christians first, Catholics second, & Anglicans third. That is why we must ensure our focus is God’s focus. We cannot afford to be insular or distracted from the main game. We need to defend the whole Faith, proclaim the Good News. Do apologetics, explaining calmly the reasons we believe, and perform evangelism. We must speak up for the truth, not just about things that led to our separation from the Anglican Communion, but the basic truths of Christianity. Catholic Ecumenism (especially between us and the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church) is inseparable from these priorities because we can and should share resources, we need one another spiritually, and because our disunity undermines our identity and message. After all, Catholicism and sectarianism are meant to be opposed.

Women’s ordination is just one manifestation of mankind’s rebellion against Nature and the God who created it. It is a battle-zone “inside” the Church, yet basically a deliberate attempt to encourage traitors in the ranks, get behind our lines and take our strength away from the main war. Our fight is thus much bigger than this issue.

But do we have any chance in this fight? The Church as a whole may be infallible, but its number of true believers may shrink due to apostasy. The state of the world makes us ask the question: Are we close to the end, with the final complete rebellion and accompanying persecution of Christians about to begin? Is the Church Age almost over, presaging the Great Tribulation and Second Coming?

Some signs, but not all, point this way. Remember, there are two simultaneous sets of images that represent the movement of history through the Church Age predicted in Biblical prophecy. There is growth as we affect the world greatly for the better by being, in Jesus’ parables, salt, light, leaven (which, though initially tiny in quantity, raises the whole loaf), and a small seed growing into a great tree. The victorious Gospel is to go to all peoples, without exception.

But there is also struggle and loss, as we experience constant conflict with the world and, near the end, apparent defeat as the Antichrist is “allowed to make war against the saints and conquer them” (Rev. 13.7). It is about this end-time that Jesus asked, “Will I find faith on the earth?” Well, until the very end we will live in the tension between these two realities. And the Gospel has not been effectively preached to all peoples, and there are some signs of the forces of darkness losing battles. So, it is clear, whatever our chances of “success” may appear to be, we must fight.

How do we fight? By “speaking the truth in love.” Anger is allowed, hate is not. Loving our enemies is in fact a part of the weaponry of truth. Why? Because it falsifies the accusation that our efforts are simply about exerting power over others and coercing them to submit to our will.

And now we come to an issue that Christians in the Western world cannot help but be sensitive to. Christian love demands more than the words. It demands good works, exceptional generosity to the poor and a sacrificial, disciplined lifestyle. (Christians can have honest disagreements about how much of the action for the poor should be expressed and effected through democratically-sanctioned government action and how much through individuals, but what we cannot do is passively acquiesce to a culture of heedless consumerism and selfishness.) And when I said exceptional generosity, I meant it. We should stand out in our willingness to help the poor and suffering – even those we suspect may have contributed to their own problems.

That is the love that goes the extra mile. We should speak out, as the Old Testament prophets did, on behalf of the powerless and oppressed. By doing this at the very same time that we also defend the moral structure necessary to society and uphold virtues such as respect, moderation, modesty, and taking responsibility for your own actions, we will show the same balance and fullness revealed by God in the scriptures. For God judges harshly both the stubbornly and scornfully rebellious and he who takes advantage of the poor. Both sins cry out to Heaven for vengeance. People are more likely to take us seriously if we do not display a preferential blind-spot to some sins while condemning others.

Now, I’ll admit that I sometimes have great difficulty thinking we can make much ground in this battlefield of modern souls, which then almost persuades me we must be near the very end of history. The reason for my occasional pessimism is that we are up against a powerful force and wholehearted group of followers. I warn you, I am about to make an oversimplification. A wit once said there are only two types of people in the world, those who say there are two types of people in the world and those who don’t. I’m one of the former today. A second warning: I am going to discuss quite frankly the great idolatry of our time. There are, I contend, two main categories of people in the western world: those who worship God -- and those who worship the body. The first pursue true happiness: they seek truth, beauty and goodness, whose source is God. The second pursue mere pleasure: they seek food, sex and intoxication. And not necessarily in that order.

If you don’t believe me, look at the great cultural and moral conflicts of our time. Abortion advocates and contraception pushers are deeply offended that anybody, including and especially a baby, should presume to stop people obeying the body and copulating when and how they please. If contraception and abortion weren’t available fornicators might have to actually accept the natural consequences of their actions and acknowledge that sex is not just about fulfilling their desires. Blasphemy! Or, worse still, they might have to deliberately go against the wishes of the body and abstain. To defy the demigod’s will. Unthinkable! How else does one explain the now common characterisation of celibacy as a perversion, except by assuming this kind of thinking? Is it any wonder that their deity demands human sacrifice and that they consider it only right it should have it?

Those who demand homosexual rights also stipulate that to disobey the body is the greatest foolishness (for whatever your hormones impel you to do, surely it is right you should do). For other people to try to interfere with one’s devotion to the body is not simply seen as foolish, but the height of wickedness.

Such blasphemy is sometimes termed today “fascism”. It is quite obvious that for such devotees pornography is not only a right, but its defence a duty. Prostitution, in itself, can have nothing wrong with it, as long as no one gets hurt. Of course, they admit, there are complications when the married partake, but being successfully secretive or having an “open marriage” can, it is argued, fix those problems. Pleasure, no pain, “what’s the problem?” they ask.

So, next time you see hatred or contempt in the eyes of our opponents in these so-called “culture wars”, just remind yourself that they can’t help but see you as an apostate or infidel, for you have questioned the unquestionable. After all, if there is no happiness other than or higher than bodily pleasure, then those who would in any way moderate bodily pleasure, for whatever reason, are cruel. We would restrict the only happiness there is for the sake of what is for them an illusion, a nothing. Similarly, if the only real evil is pain, then euthanasia follows as matter of course, and its opponents are evil-doers.

No wonder they hate us. The body is a jealous god. Or, to put it in St Paul’s terms, “the flesh lusteth against the spirit”. However, we also need to be careful not to sacrifice our integrity to this false god and thereby point to specks in the eyes of others while carrying around logs in our own. For example, gay advocates have a point when they compare the heat generated among Christians by homosexual issues with the languid tolerance of divorce, despite the Saviour’s strong words about the latter.

But, despite the pessimism I mentioned earlier and the challenges we must face, the truth remains that “He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world”. Grace is greater, and can cut through the barriers of the world, the flesh and the devil. We shouldn’t be surprised that the world hates us or that it is mired in sin. It was ever thus, since the Fall, and the battle has also been joined since then. Understanding the forces that oppose us is vital, but fretting about them is not. Quite the contrary. “Be strong and of good courage,” let the joy of the Lord be our strength, as the Scriptures exhort.

Yes, there is a war and a lot of work to do but we are on the winning side. Jesus won the victory at the Cross and Empty Tomb. We are “more than conquerors”, if only we will stand firm in the faith, and combine our devotion to the truth with love. And this will include a commitment to Christian unity, a discernment of who our real enemy is, and a willingness to perfect a strong mind with a soft heart as we demonstrate to the world a courageous compassion. +

4 comments:

Warwickensis said...

A brilliant sermon, that sums up our persecution and our duty in the face of this persecution.

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