Monday, October 31, 2011

All Saints Day Nov. 1

Rev. 7 * Matt. 5: 1-12

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
I recall my very first solar eclipse, probably about 1961 or 1962, when I could not have been more than four years old. I remember it well. My mother was very careful to tell me not to look directly at the sun, because it was very possible that I could go blind if I did. During a solar eclipse, we can look at the sun, not realizing that the infrared rays are every bit as destructive to the optic nerve as ever. Our eyes cannot take those rays in their full strength. So, I was told not to look up when the sky would darken, but to look down and so preserve my eyesight.

A cousin, who lived across the street, came over with a cardboard box, that, if worn like a helmet over the head, due to a hole cut in the back and a white sheet of paper as a viewing screen placed in front, could be used to see the reflection of the eclipse. It was a partial eclipse, and I recall that on the white screen I saw the sun with a dark round shadow in front of it, causing the reflection of the sun to appear like the moon, when it is only partly visible. The sun appeared shaped like a quarter moon, reflected inside the box-helmet. Even more strange, when I removed the box from my head, on the ground a thousand such reflections appeared, little quarter-moon images of the sun. We could not look directly at the brightness of the sun with any safety, but we could look at the endless reflections all over the ground. I have never seen that particular effect from an eclipse on any other occasion in about fifty years since that day. But, I cannot forget what it looked like.

That is an illustration for us. In our condition as fallen creatures, subject in this world to sin and death, we cannot not look upon the undiluted glory of God in its perfection. It is not a danger, because it cannot happen; for if it happened we would be unable to endure it. It is true that Christ said, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.” But, this was accomplished by His coming to us as a man. Even on the Mount of Transfiguration it was His glorified humanity that shined with the brightness of the sun in its strength. He made known His divine presence by everything He said and did, especially by defeating death when in His resurrection He ushered in immortality. But, never did He unleash on anyone a perfect glimpse of His divine nature, for to do so would not have been merciful, but rather terrifying. So, He took human nature in its fullness, and this became a part of Him forever by a loving and gracious act of His will. Human nature served as His icon, a perfect image of the Father for us to see. Similarly, His Presence here today is very real, but made food for us under “these shadows mean” of bread and wine.

We do hope to see God some day, and not only in the human nature taken by the Son, though never will it be set aside; And whenever we see God we cannot do so without seeing Christ Jesus, for the Trinity cannot be divided or dissected. The goal and hope of Christians is to see God as our Lord Jesus said: "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." This one little line is the reason why this passage that opens the Sermon on the Mount is the Gospel for the Feast of all Saints. The Church long has used the word “saints” to speak of those we believe to have entered already into the perfect state that allows them to be granted the Beatific Vision. That is, to see God as God, the final perfect destiny of the human creature by grace.

Because we are not ready for the Beatific Vision, we must, for now, see God the way I saw the sun during the solar eclipse in my childhood. What we see, that is the sight of God in Jesus Christ, is real. And, real also is what you see when I hold the Sacrament up and tell you to Behold the Lamb of God. We see that reality in a way that is given to us by God’s love, because He saves us by showing Himself. Jesus said to Nicodemus:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:15-17).”

We see Him in His human nature, lifted up on the cross. We see Him as the Lamb of God, ourselves not worthy that he should come under our roof, but asking that He speak the word only, and our souls shall be healed. Yes, what we see is real. And, what we see is granted to us in a way that saves us rather than destroying us, for He came to save us. Our sinfulness, our weakness and our foolishness is all taken into account by the Father, and what we do not see is due to His mercy. The fullness of Godhead dwells in Christ bodily, and the Holy Spirit is really and truly present within the Church- within us with all His gifts. But, our destiny is to behold the sun in its strength when our eyes are made able to endure the brightness, able to endure seeing God as God. We are meant to know Him as He is, to behold throughout eternity the Beatific Vision, a vision not stagnant because He is infinite, and our knowledge of Him once made perfect will be ever perfected more and more, endless knowledge, joy and love.

Yet, we must never presume on God’s grace. Hell is the eternal denial of this joy; not that God denies it to us, but that we deny it to ourselves if we do not make it our aim to know Him.

Think of the words we call the Summary of the Law. The first and great commandment is the impossible call to be saints, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind, and then to love your neighbor as yourself. When you look at the Epistles of Saint Paul, in the opening of the Epistle to the Romans and the first Epistle to the Corinthians, you see that all of the people who belong to the Church are “called to be saints.”

I like the King James Bible, with that accurate translation “called to be saints.” That “called to be” part is missing from the understanding of a good many Protestant revivalists, fundamentalists and Pentecostals. They teach that every Christian is a saint just by, as they like to say, “accepting Jesus.” Meanwhile, the opposite error belongs to those who seem to think of saints as if they were comic book superheroes, people with special abilities like Superman born on Krypton, or Spiderman with his radioactive bug bite that enables him to do amazing things. We mere mortals cannot be like them, and it’s best just to be normal.

Well, the truth is that a saint is a holy person. That is what the word means. And, the truth is that everyone who belongs to Christ has the vocation to be a saint. We have not yet arrived at being perfected as saints, but neither are we supposed to leave that to a special class of superheroes. The scripture commands us to “follow on to know the Lord (Hosea 6:3).”

The most important thing that we Anglicans focus on during the Feast of All Saints is not the issue of devotions to the saints. Sure, it is possible, I suppose, to slip into idolatry and to worship saints and angels- and some people have. But, that is not a likely error for most Anglicans. I think we all know that only God is to be worshiped as God. The ancient practice of asking the saints to pray for us is not idolatry, and should not be condemned as if it were. I can make no guarantee that they have a more than merely human capacity to hear everyone, for that would indicate that they somehow shared the Divine attribute of omnipresence (which they simply cannot). I cannot place my faith in any one of them that way. But, I know that they must be praying for the Church militant. For they have been made perfect in charity.

The subject of devotions to saints is not our focus on the feast of All Saints. Our focus has always been the call that God has given to all of us, the call to become, by grace, saints ourselves. That is, we are called to be holy, to be faithful in every area of our lives, to press on to know the Lord, to confess the sins we fall into and repent of them in order to be forgiven, and also to be cleansed and delivered from the power of sin. We are called to develop the virtues, faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance. Above all of the others charity, the bond of perfection.

In order to begin to answer the call to holiness, we must be thankful. And, that is the best reason to look at the Lord Jesus as the Lamb of God, lifted up on the cross as Moses lifted the serpent on the pole in the wilderness. It is in thanksgiving that our hearts begin to render for Christ’s great act of love, that our souls are healed, not treating us as our sins deserve, but rather dying as our atonement. In that love we begin to see the reflection of Divine glory. Like that reflection I saw as a child, wearing a box as a helmet on my head, we see the glory of God the way I saw a projection of the sun. And like the innumerable reflections of the partial sun that I saw across the ground, we see radiant glory in the great company of saints who have gone before, and who now, with hearts made pure by grace, behold the glory of God.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

This Sunday

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
Ephesians 4:17-32

 *Matthew 9:1-8

But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.
It may appear strange that Jesus addressed the need of a sick man, in fact acompletely paralyzed man, by speaking an ever so bold absolution: “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” The Pharisees thought he was blaspheming, because their religious system allowed no man to speak so boldly. They figured that we may hope for forgiveness of sins, but they were offended by the bold declaration that any particular individual’s sins actually have been forgiven. That much faith was more than they could swallow. Today people may find the words of Jesus to be an affront to their sensitivities, wondering how He could address a suffering person about sin. They might assume it is fine to feel empathy, to address the obvious visible needs of a man paralyzed, and no doubt would approve of words that were intended to establish the full equality of the man, perhaps with a phrase like, mobiley challenged.

But, Jesus addressed the man’s spiritual and moral need first and foremost, because that is most important. The highest priority of all is to have a fully restored and meaningful communion with God, to be reconciled to God and to be free from any hindrance in that fellowship that is the highest priority, that knowledge of God before which even the fear of death yields and retreats. Compared to that greatest need of all, mere paralysis is trivial. So is blindness, deafness, and even premature death, all of them among the many conditions that Jesus healed as “with power” He “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil.” (Acts 10:38)

Right now, just like the offended Pharisees, many people would like very much to have a religion in which the subject of forgiveness never comes up, because the seriousness of sin is treated as either non-existent, or as trivial. They want a more “spiritual” religion, and they even use the word “spiritual” or “spirituality” because it is non-threatening. It has, in modern times, no moral significance whatsoever.

If that is the kind of religion you want, the kind that allows you to flatter yourself and convince yourself that you are righteous, wise and “spiritual”-whatever you imagine that the word is supposed to mean- then you are in the wrong church. The Book of Common Prayer has a General Confession of Sin in every major service, followed by Absolution that a priest declares (if one is present), and that is because we must approach God based on the truth, not based on our own feeling or our self-appraisal. Furthermore, if you want a religion that flatters you and makes you feel affirmed and tells you how wonderful you are, you should avoid the Book of Common Prayer, yes, but even more so never, ever, under any circumstances, read your Bible.

The wisdom of the Book of Common Prayer, all of which comes from the Bible (as anyone can see, anyone who actually knows the Bible), is that it approaches God always based on His revelation of himself, and of His Gospel, that He has given for all people for all times. If you must ask the origin of any portion of the Book of Common Prayer, or wonder where it came from, then it is clear that any knowledge you have of the Bible is poor, or shallow, or superficial. Otherwise, you would see the words in the Prayer Book, and know where they came from; they have all come right out of the Bible, ultimately, as the actual source (and that includes the content of the Creeds). And, among them you would recall the words of Jesus, quoted in Morning Prayer as we begin:

“The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” St. John iv. 23.

You cannot worship God in spirit by flattering yourself that you are “spiritual,” because the spirit that pleases God is one of humility. And, you cannot worship God in truth without acknowledging the truth He has revealed as he has revealed it. Once upon a time I was concerned about the spiritual malady called “self-righteousness” as merely a problem of hypocrisy. I have become aware of a deeper kind of self-righteousness, and that is the kind that is delusional. Some individuals, despite the clear words of Scripture in which God speaks to us even now, really believe in their own righteousness. That delusion is a sickness worse than paralysis, and one that will create a wall of division separating a person from communion with God, and from communion or fellowship within His Church among His people.

We see this delusion expressed as a doctrine among some Pentecostals and other Fundamentalists who openly say. “I was a sinner, but now I am a saint.” But, Saint Paul said, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (I Tim. 1:15) He was a saint, but he did not say, “Of whom I was chief,” past tense: He said, “Of whom I am chief,” Present tense. The Doctrinal formula for this is Simul Iustus Et Peccator. That is, "simultaneously just (righteous) and a sinner." At best, that is the condition we are in as we walk through this life.

Taking St. Paul’s words from I Corinthians 15:20-22, we see this in terms of our ultimate hope, the sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the Last Day:

“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Ultimately, if we are in Christ and live in Him, we will live by Him, drawing our whole life from His immortal resurrected life, risen from the dead, and glorified with Him as “partakers of the Divine nature.” (II Peter 1:4) But, we are not there yet. Right now we are in two fathers. In Adam we die, and in Christ we live. That is, we live in the reality of Simul Iustus Et Peccator. There is, in this life in this world, no escaping the mortal condition we have in Adam, nor is there any escaping the need to pray as our Prayer Book guides us, confessing our sins as we approach the Holy God on His throne. But, because the other fact is also completely true for all who believe, we really do approach His throne with joy because we are “in Christ.” We may enter into His presence, and come before His throne, in the words of Scripture, “having boldness to enter in.” The Epistle to the Hebrews is where you will find these words:

“Now where remission of [sins] is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; 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).” Heb. 10:18-22

This is what Martin Luther meant when he said to sin boldly. He did not mean to be bold in how you sin, nor did he mean that you should presume to live in willful unrepentant sin (for, that is the way to eternal death); rather he meant that you should be bold about entering God’s presence with faith, because in Christ you are truly justified. You may enter just as the writer to the Hebrews says, with boldness, and that is not boldness for just any old reason. You do not enter with boldness into God’s presence because you see yourself as righteous, wise and spiritual. You enter in “with full assurance of faith,” only because you have been granted entrance into the most Holy Place before the throne of God “by the blood of Jesus.” That alone is how you have been granted entrance, and that alone is why you are accepted.

Our Confession of Sin is not morbid. It is not gloomy. It is not the Confession of people living in terror of the grave, unsure if they have enough merits for eternal life (which, you may be sure, no one has; not even the people with word “Saint” placed before their names). Our Confession of sin is based on our certain faith in God’s love and forgiveness, not because we feel that he is forgiving, but because, in fact, Jesus Christ died for our sins and reconciled us to the Father. And, in fact, He rose from the dead so that we may live in Him, now and forever, eventually, on that glorious Day, shedding what it means to be “in Adam” and taking on only what it means to be “in Christ.”
We worship God in spirit and in truth, if we grasp the meaning of today’s Collect:

O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

That comes directly from the words of Jesus:
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: forwithout me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)

So, just as Jesus began by speaking words of Absolution, and healing the soul of the paralyzed man before meeting his physical need, I will continue to address, in my preaching, the true diagnosis of what ails us all. Along with that, I will continue to proclaim God’s revealed prognosis for everyone who takes the medicine He prescribes:

As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Christ the King
Colossians 1.12-20 
St. John 18:33 – 37

Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.

The feast of Christ the King was first introduced in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, because of his observation that nationalism and secularism were growing ever stronger. Think of that time, when Communism as a political power, and Fascism also, were taking over in nations that had formerly been thought of as part of an unofficial international state called Christendom. Ever since the Napoleonic wars that had torn apart Europe and wasted countless lives, and especially after the insanity of World War I -- seen by just about everyone as the most destructive, senseless and meaningless war in history -- it became obvious that the Church of Jesus Christ had to take a more aggressive posture in proclaiming the light of the Kingdom of God into the darkness of the fallen world. That other churches besides the Roman Catholic Church, many Lutherans and Anglicans, began to celebrate the Feast of Christ of King, was more than a simple gesture of ecumenism. It became a world of violence and arrogant State power, with a magnification of "the insolence of office" beyond anything hitherto seen. To the Socialists of Communism and Fascism in their time, and to every state under Heaven where ideology overwhelms simple truth and justice through the agenda of worldly politics, the Church must dig in her heels and proclaim the message that Christ is King over all the Earth.

Christians live under the authority of the State, but only to a point. The problem with governments is that they do, by their very nature, tend to become too powerful, which is why the United States Constitution was written. It was written to define the power of the Federal Government within prescribed limits and to subject that government to the Rule of Law. It is, as we see, an ongoing battle to keep it subject to Law. And, throughout all history it is always difficult to be free in the sense of the truth that God has revealed, the true meaning of liberty.

In the theological sense, that is in terms of the Word of God, freedom or liberty is the power to obey God with a good conscience. Answering their persecutors among the Sanhedrin (the ruling Council of Elders), and the High Priest, the Apostles were very clear in the Book of Acts:

"And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, 'Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.' Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, 'We ought to obey Godrather than men.'" (Acts 5:27-29)

The State is not God. Like the Hebrew National kosher Hot Dog company, we answer to a Higher Authority. Earthly rulers can and should see themselves as God's servants who administer justice, keep order and protect the people from harm (Romans 13:1f). When they fulfill this role, it is good. But, the essence of tyranny is for the State to try to take the place of God, and when earthly rulers require individuals to make the sacrifice of laying down and offering up conscience on the altar of Caesar, than they become the Beast from the Book of Revelation.

When Germans obediently murdered Jews, when American soldiers obeyed orders and murdered unarmed Dakota of both sexes and all ages at Wounded Knee, and everywhere in all history where soldiers have allowed unnatural and evil men to turn them into brutes, they received in their hands and foreheads the mark of the Beast. In isolated cases where officers presume to order military chaplains not to pray in the Name of Jesus Christ even when leading services for Christian members of the Armed Forces (as has happened), or when politicians try to pass laws that would require all doctors and hospitals to abort helpless and innocent unborn babies, the obedient ones who lay down their consciences as sacrifices and offerings to the State receive in their hands that work, and in their foreheads that think, the mark of the Beast. No one has the authority to order you to disobey God, or to violate your conscience. God's commandments are absolute, eternal and unchanging. Men's commandments are temporary. We really do answer to a Higher Authority. We answer to Christ the King. Is it any wonder that Christians have had to endure persecution to the death?

The world has armies and weapons, but all we have is the truth.

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight...Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. 

Because Christ is the King, and because He rules by the truth of His revelation, we all would do well to learn the attitude of faith that was expressed by the Centurion. He said to the Lord Jesus, "I am a man under authority." (Matt. 8:9) And, that is the case for all of us. In the Church, it has a specific meaning for all the clergy. I have been given the title Rector, which means one who rules (which carries real implication of the word "presbyter"). But, I cannot see myself as a man who possesses authority as much as a man who is under authority. I am under the authority of Archbishop Haverland, a joyful thing for me. Like the Lord Himself, the Archbishop's yoke is easy and his burden is light -- or so it seems to me, because we have the same exact goal and purpose, which is to care for you and to proclaim the Gospel to everyone who will hear us. Ultimately, all authority among human beings is delegated, for ultimately it all goes back to God from Whom it comes, even as it comes through the order He has established in His Church.

It does not come as a privilege, nor as an honor nor as an advantage. It comes as a charge and as a commission with real responsibilities and obligations. We have received a thing called Holy Orders, and that means, as in the military, we have our orders. So, I say to you, I am a man under authority. Some of you may wonder, where does this guy get these things he preaches? The answer is, it has come from the words of our King. What I preach is not my own opinion, my own ideas or simply the expression of erudition. In every service we read the words that have come, ultimately, from God through human instruments called Apostles and Prophets. Because I a man under authority, my duty and my orders are to proclaim the meaning of God's most holy word for the sake of your souls to the end that you walk in the glorious liberty of the children of God and receive the salvation of your souls. I do not stand in the pulpit to fill time in a service (nor even to fill out time in a service).

Because I am a man under authority I am not allowed to compromise on the clear revelation of God. That includes certain essential things.

1. God's commandments.
For example, when I tell you that God's laws have not changed, that Christians must teach their children to "wait until marriage" no matter what the world around them is doing, or that Christians (because we answer to a Higher Authority) have no rights to abortion, no rights to suicide (even physician assisted), no rights to redefine marriage, no rights to treat marriage as a throw away commodity, or to disregard God's Laws in all the ways that are so popular, it is because I have received my orders. God has spoken, and what I must preach is His word, not the amoral fashions of this sinful world. To be men under authority clarifies these things for us.

2. The Gospel.
Perhaps a warm and fuzzy new message would fill up our pews, but no souls would be saved from sin and death. A man under authority has only one Gospel to preach, that defined by St. Paul in I Corinthians chapter fifteen.

"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."

That is, Christ fulfilled the words of the Prophets (the meaning of "according to the scriptures") in that
1. He died for our sins,
2. was buried,
3. rose again the third day and
4. appeared to witnesses after His resurrection.

Do we have any other message, anything else to offer for those who do not like option A? No, we have nothing else that we have been commanded to preach. Other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have no message whatsoever. Take it or leave it, for you will be given nothing else. Some religious entertainers, clerics and faith healers of various kinds, may offer something else, and sometimes they sell better for a while. But as a man under authority I have one message: Come to the Living Christ with "hearty repentance and true faith." We, men under authority, preach to you the message and words of Christ the King. Everyone who is of the truth hears His voice.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The theology of unity

On July 28, I posted the following:

Unity and Salvation

"Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." John 17:20,21

We hear this quoted often, and alluded to even more often. Almost never do we actually hear the full quotation. This should not be surprising in an age that thinks in sound bites, and that places greater emphasis on how people feel about issues, than on what they think about them. When we are treated to these allusions and partial quotations, the message seems to be this: Jesus really wants us to become one, and we have to make it happen. Put another way, God is praying to us, and we ought to hear his prayer.And, if that seems wrong to you, good; well it should.The emphasis of the Gospel according to St. John is twofold: It is the Trinity and the Incarnation. As it opens, John takes us behind the scenes of Genesis. The Hebrew name of the first book of the Bible means, "In the beginning." ( B'Rasheet, בְּרֵאשִׁית). John opens with this same phrase recognized by readers of the Septuagint(LXX), the standard Greek translation of the Old Testament; He too opens with, "In the beginning," (En Arche, ἐν ἀρχῇ ). In the Book of B'Rasheet, or Genesis, we are told what God did, the word "created" (bora, בָּרָא) following as the second word ("In the beginning" is all one word). 

If translated into English words, but retaining Hebrew syntax, it would say, "In the beginning created God the heavens and the earth." The emphasis is not on God himself, but on his work of creation. John, using the expression known to Greek readers of the LXX (ἐν ἀρχῇ ) alludes to the opening of Genesis in a very obvious way, but does not immediatley speak of God's work. First he lingers on God as God, and presents God as the Trinity."In the beginning was the Word (Logos, Λόγος), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God." (1:1,2)Verse 2 is not superflous; it mentions God the third time because, as this Gospel unfolds, we see the Son and we hear him speak of the other Comforter, that is the Spirit of Truth. The theme of God as Trinity is presented immediately. Then, with a bow to the Genesis narrative, John speaks of creation (בָּרָא): "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. " He speaks of the Logos as the One in whom there is life, that is, life that gives life, suggesting most strongly the creation of Man: "In him was life; and the life was the light of men." 

When we keep reading, and get to verse 14, the second great theme of John's Gospel is introduced. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."It is only in the context of these two great themes that dominate this Gospel, the Trinity and the Incarnation of the Word, that we have any business interpreting the meaning of the High Priestly prayer of chapter 17. The first Unity that we must consider in the words of this prayer is the Unity of the Trinity. 

So, it opens: "These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. " (17:1-3) 

Our salvation is knowing God, and because whoever sees the Son sees the Father, and no man comes to the Father but by the Son (14:6-10), because God cannot be separated from God (for each Person is distinct, but inseparable), to know the Father requires that we know Jesus Christ. The only true God is known truly only by revelation, namely, Jesus Christ Whom he has sent; that is, the Word Incarnate.By the time we get to the place where Jesus says, "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are" (v.11), it ought to be clear that he is speaking to the Father, one Divine Person to another Divine Person, about our common salvation in himself. The meaning is eternal and salvific. 

It means, in effect, keep them in me. For, "this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. "Understood correctly, "that may all be one" gives greater motivation to be unified among ourselves in common faith and thought, with charity; because we are one whether we live like it or not. A prayer spoken within the Godhead, which we are privileged to overhear, the Son addressing the Father, is as much a declaration as "Let there be light," or "Let us make man in our image." God has pronounced that his people are one, that is, that the Church is, as St. Paul says many times, "in Christ." 

The Church as a whole is "in Christ," and each member of the Church is "in Christ."We know that a married couple is no longer two, but one flesh. This is clear in Genesis, in the Gospels where Jesus explains that divorce is a mere fiction, and in the Epistles of Paul when he warns us to live within the boundaries of God's moral laws. To suggest that the eternal unity of the Church in Christ can really be broken, is akin to believing that human courts can undo the work of God in a valid sacramental marriage. The Church's various divorces, whether in 1054 or in the 16th century, do not annul its unity in Christ; for if it did, members would be cut off and die simply because of human failing. Where true faith is present, we are in Christ; and, unless one can rob a Christian of his faith, he cannot cut him off from Christ (Romans 4:16).

Our unity is both a present and eternal fact, because we are in Christ. We should make efforts to understand each other, to be very clear in communication, to work for the resolution of theological and political separation, and to cultivate charity by the grace of the Holy Spirit who is within us all. But, we must not let this become mere sentimentality, and neither must we feel anxiety or pressure to leap forward faster than honest and clear communication allow. We already are one in Christ, and can proceed toward a resolution of differences in polity only with theological clarity and respect for everyone's conscience.
At the time I was writing to respond to false ideas about unity being pushed on people by urgent demands that they convert to Roman Catholicism. That was a false appeal to unity. What is happening at the present time is that the leading bishops of the older and larger jurisdictions are working on a realistic unity that can be achieved fairly soon. That is, unity among us; to have no more Continuing movement, but the Continuing Anglican Church. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Taken in West Palm Beach, Florida during the Provincial Synod of the ACC-OP. From left to right, Archbishop Robinson of the UECNA, Archbishop Haverland of the ACC-OP, Presiding Bishop Marsh of the ACA, Presiding Bishop Grundorf of the APA.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A few things for today

Our series on The Articles will continue. Fr. Wells is slowed down by the pains in his arm (he broke his arm in France - sounds like a song title). Pray that he will recover, and that our work goes on unhindered.

Concerning the progress towards unity (which we must attribute to the Holy Spirit above all others) that I mentioned late on Friday after returning from the Provincial Synod, and to answer a question bound to arise; yes, all the bishops present were vested during the Synod Mass, and everyone had Communion. The old days are already over.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Trinity 18 Sermon Notes

“I give thanks to God always for you”.+

There are two lessons from today's Epistle I wish to draw out, one specifically religious, the other more generally about how to communicate. Let us explore the latter first.

This is a very positive opening to this letter. The Apostle expresses his thankfulness for the Corinthians richness in spiritual gifts: “enriched in him in all speech and knowledge … not lacking in any spiritual gift”.

Yet he goes on to reprove them for their lack of spiritual maturity (1 Cor. 3:1) and fruit, especially the spiritual fruit of love (3:3, cp. 12:27 – 13:13). Despite his happiness at their speech and knowledge, he goes on to say this: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.".

Why does he begin a long string of rebukes with this affirmation? It is not because he is a flatterer, as the rest of the letter makes abundantly clear. It is not because his reproof is half-hearted, as also soon becomes obvious in the reading. It is because his motivation is one of love. That means he will rebuke their vice and plead with them to reform for their sake, not just to “get something off his chest” or to show that he is right, they are wrong, he is good, they are bad. So, he wants them to really listen, to be persuaded, to see his heart. Thus it is that he begins with an honest acknowledgement of the grace given to them, of their strengths. This honesty and generosity has more chance of reaching his listeners hearts than unrelieved criticism and anger, however justified. He says, in 1 Corinthians 4: " I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructers in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." In other words, he appeals to them as already united to him in the common grace of Christ, as he has at the beginning of the Epistle.

We should do the same, when it comes time for us to criticise others, including our children in the flesh or spirit. If you foolishly wish your criticism to go unheeded or to exacerbate the situation, then, by all means, criticise for your own sake. Let anger have full sway. “Unload”. Prove them wrong and let them feel their inferiority. Eschew any kind words, especially any initially that might “undermine” your tirade.

But if, as it happens, you actually care for the person and want your fair criticism of them to bear good fruit, imitate St Paul. Seek and acknowledge the grace and goodness in them. Discipline your approach. Aim to turn the heart, and not just batter the ears or mind. Yes, one could trivialise this as “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”. But the sugar here is not just a superfluous mask for the unpleasant taste of the medicine, it is part of the medicine.

Now for the other lesson. St Paul compares the richness in spiritual gifts of knowledge and speech among the Corinthians to the confirmation of the testimony to Christ among them: "in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you". If we move ahead to chapter 2, we can see more clearly what he is referring to. "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (2:1-4). The confirmation of the testimony he refers to is the abundance of spiritual gifts and power that surrounded his ministry of the gospel to them at the beginning. The word translated “demonstration" in chapter 2 and the word translated “confirmed” in chapter 1 are indeed derived from different Greek words (from the noun apodeixeis and verb bebaioo, respectively). But they both can have the connotation of proving something.

Therefore, St Paul, much as he may stress later the priority of love, here also teaches the importance of the spiritual gifts for confirming, i.e., strengthening. At the end of today's passage, the word translated “sustain”, referring to God sustaining us “to the end”, is from the same root Greek verb. So, the gifts are part of how God strengthens and sustains our faith, and our whole journey on earth towards Him.

That means that we have a sacred responsibility to seek and to know and to use our spiritual gifts, whether involving words spoken or actions done, whether palpably supernatural or not-so-obviously miraculous. For they are one of the means God uses to bring us to our final destination. Through them we strengthen and sustain one another. +

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

I Corinthians 1:4-7 * Matthew 22:34-46

In today’s Gospel we have heard that familiar summary of the Law, the two greatest commandments from the Torah, or Law of Moses. We know by heart the quotation, in which our Lord Jesus Christ singled out two commandments from the Old Testament scriptures, one from Deuteronomy (6:5) and one from Leviticus (19:18), upon which hang the entire moral teaching both of Moses and of the prophets, the greatest and all inclusive commandments of God. If we take to heart the point He made, we cannot go about life in a way that the world regards as normal. If we love God with all of our being, our whole heart, soul and mind- and all of our strength as well - then we cannot go about a well-balanced life in which we include just enough religion, and no more, as part of our complete diet. 

If I love God I cannot ignore His commandments; and if I love my neighbor I must teach the truth, rather than aid people in embracing the deception of this present age. Yes, times have changed, and with them the moral expectations of the world around us. But, not the commandments of God (which is why I remind you, for example, that no matter what the world has been doing, Christian parents teach their children to wait until marriage). We do not live by the rules of the times, or the spirit of the age. We live by eternal truth that has been revealed. In my experience, I have seen that people never ruin their lives and gain a load of regrets by obeying the commandments of God. Now, we believe in the forgiveness of sins; but, also, I like to help spare people the pain and consequences of stopping their ears to God’s word. I especially want young people to be spared all that. For one thing, they will be happier.

It is written in the book of Isaiah: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever (Isa. 40:8).” And, our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away (Matt.24:35).” If we love God and our neighbor, then we do not run over the cliff like lemmings, nor do we help others run with the lemmings. Whatever the world accepts as normal is completely irrelevant to what we must live by. We must live by the eternal and unchanging truth revealed by God in every area of faith and morals.

The Epistle and the Gospel complement each other today. In fact, the Epistle we heard comes in a context that teaches us the Biblical use of the word “saint,’ which is different from how we have come to use it (when forced to choose between the Bible and people’s usage, better to choose the Bible. That is why I will not call nuns “brides of Christ.” The Church is the Bride of Christ, and He has no need of a polygamous image to be created in His Church). We find how St. Paul used the word “saints” by backing up four verses to the beginning:

“1:Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 
2: 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:  3: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Once more, let me draw your attention to these words: “…called to be saints.” Who are the people called to be saints? Everyone in the church to which he wrote. What does that mean for you here today? It means that if Saint Paul were writing this letter to us, he would say the same thing. Everyone who belongs to the Church is called to be a saint. You, whether you like it or not, are called to be a saint. Your vocation is “holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) That is what the first and great commandment means, and the second. And, the problem is, if you don’t like the first product the Church has for you, namely to become a saint, life in the Church really has nothing else to offer. Real Christianity is radical, and calls for total commitment in every area of life. That is why we need the Holy Spirit.

Because I am a priest, you have every right to demand of me that I live a life devoted to Jesus Christ. That I read the scriptures daily, pray daily, be in Church and receive the sacraments regularly, and that I live in this world with God never far from my thoughts. You have every right to demand that I love my neighbor and seek to represent Jesus Christ to every person. And, as a priest, I have the right, in fact I have the duty, to call each and every one of you to the same standard. And, if I don’t call you to live up to this standard, I am not doing you any good.

However, let me assure you, I am preaching as much to myself, if not more so, than to you. We need the grace of God, and a spirit quick to forgive, because we all fail. But, the only people who can fail are the people who are making genuine effort to succeed. It is impossible to fail at something that you do not even try to do. Which means, once again, in the clear teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ as we heard it read today, God has promised no place in His kingdom to people who want just enough religion and not too much, sort of like a mere part of a healthy diet. A little Christianity, not too much thank you, to make us immune to catching it for real.

None of us can live as Christ requires, and accept His call with courage, unless we have the grace of God from the Holy Spirit; unless we pray often never giving up, unless we take the time to know and understand the scripture, and unless we remain within the Church and receive the sacraments. To whom else can we turn? Only Jesus Christ has the words of eternal life. By God’s grace, each of us is called to be a saint, if necessary, to be a martyr. Oh yes, and thank God the ancient Church accepted this fact, or we would not be here today. And, it is not just the ancient Church that had to accept the call to martyrdom. In many parts of the world right now, it is not safe to be a Christian.

Early in the year 2005, I met some Egyptian Copts; that is Christians who are part of the ancient Coptic Church. One of them, an elderly man, has refugee status in this country. Another of them said to me, “in our country the routine mass killing of Christians by Muslims has been commonplace for a long time.” I can well imagine some people wondering why they cling to their faith in Christ when it can get them, and their families, killed. It is because their priorities are right. Our faith in Christ is worth more than our lives in this world. If Christians had not known that all along, the Church would have died out before the Roman Empire did. Jesus Christ had the Chutzpah to call His followers to be willing to die for Him, should it come to it. And, why not? Only He gives us the one thing we really need: Eternal life, the promise that we will survive death if we follow Him, the One Who died for our sins and rose again. 

Fr Wells' Bulletin Insert


A popular slogan tell us that "Christ is the answer." If that means "Christ is the solution," then well and good. But the slogan may delude us into the false hope that we creatures are allowed to define the questions on our own sinful terms, thus placing Him at our beck and call. Today's Gospel passage from Matthew 22 teaches us that at the end of the day, Christ for us is not the answer but rather He is the question we must face.

Matthew's 22nd chapter gives us a long dialogue from which we read only the conclusion. The critics of Jesus, Pharisees, Sadducees, scholars of the Scriptures, were all trying to entrap Jesus with various questions. They asked Him all sorts of things, about taxes, about the afterlife, and about which commandment is the most important. "They were astonished at His teaching," as well they should have been.

Then Jesus turned the tables and confronted His opponents with a question of His own. He was not trying to win a debate nor to humiliate them with His cleverness (Jesus was never an intellectual bully), but to direct them to a question far more important, a question we must also give answer to, a question on which eternity hangs. "What think ye of the Christ? whose Son is he?"

That was a question which made the Pharisees, Sadducees and scholarly detractors of Jesus wiggle in discomfort. They did not like discussions of "the Christ," particularly if any Romans were listening. "The Christ" meant the Messiah, a term fraught with sensitive political overtones. Discussions of "the Christ" still have a way of making people uncomfortable. While the name of our Saviour can be widely used as an oath or a swear-word, we do not bring Him up as a topic of polite conversation. Especially in a group of religious people.

So Jesus still catches our eye, confronts us, disregards our frivolous questions and forces the real issue with us: "What think ye of the Christ?" We may be obliged to say, "I am not sure." Or we may try to respond, "Why do you ask that?" The truth may be, "I do not think of Him at all."

When Jesus asked, "Who do ye say that I am, we know the answer Simon Peter gave, "Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God." But sometimes a right answer is not enough, for Jesus still found need to ask him, "Simon, bar-Jonah, lovest thou me?" Jesus, son of David and Son of God, remains the ultimate and abiding question. Do we love Him "with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind?" Will we follow Him "whithersoever He goeth?"

Friday, October 21, 2011

A new day

I have only just arrived home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina after spending most of this week at the Provincial Synod of the Original Province of the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC), presided over by Archbishop Mark D. Haverland, Metropolitan. Among the visiting bishops were Archbishop John Augustine, Primate of the Second Province of the ACC in India, and other Indian bishops. Also, and of great interest to readers in the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions, seat and voice were given to Archbishop Peter Robinson of the United Episcopal Church in North America (UECNA),  the Rt. Rev. Brian Marsh Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church in America (ACA), and the Rt. Rev. Walter Grundorf of the Anglican Province in America (APA). Also present were bishops from Africa and clergy from Haiti; and I plan to report more details in the coming week here on The Continuum. News about what is happening on those fronts will be included.

The importance of having the Presiding Bishops of the ACA and the APA at this Provincial Synod of the ACC-OP cannot be overstated. One result of the Roman Catholic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, is clearer communication and shared desire for unity among these chief bishops. Each has a firm commitment to remaining Anglican and to adhering to the principles established for the Continuing Church in 1977 at St. Louis. It is time for everyone to pray and work for and to expect the emergence, in real time, of one and only one recognized Continuing Anglican Church, with all present.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rev. Canon John Hollister has also weighed in on unity. Here is what Fr. Hollister wrote in his sermon for the 17th Sunday after Trinity:

I.          Text:

From the Epistle:  “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”[i]  In the Name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

II.        Introduction and Theme:

Because you are sitting here, listening to this sermon, we all know that you are people who regularly worship according to the 1928 American edition of the traditional Book of Common Prayer that, for more than 460 years, has been such a defining characteristic of Anglicanism. 

And if you regularly worship according to the authentic Book of Common Prayer, then by the rule of lex credendi, lex orandi – that is, “What you pray becomes what you believe” -- you are almost certainly committed to the maintenance of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith – the Faith of the three historic Creeds and of the ancient universal, undivided Church of the Apostles – in its distinctively Anglican expression.

But if you are the sort of classic Catholic with an Anglican orientation that I have just described, and you pay any attention to the Internet or other publications that cover the traditional Anglican scene, then you are likely confused and concerned by the multiplicity of self-described “traditional” or “conservative” communions, jurisdictions, denominations,and bodies that present such a patchwork appearance to any interested observer.  You may even be one of those who has, on occasion, been heard to lament, “Why cannot all those, who believe and practice the same things, unify themselves, so as to witness more effectively to the world?”

III.       Developement:

Nearly everyone who is concerned with this issue has encountered the host of initials and acronyms for the various Anglican, neo-Anglican, or quasi-Anglican church and para-church bodies and associations.  A typical string of such initials and acronyms includes ACA,[i] ACC,[ii] ACNA,[iii] AMiA,[iv] APA,[v] APCK,[vi] CANA,[vii] DHC,[viii] EMC,[ix] FACA,[x] FiF,[xi] REC,[xii] TAC,[xiii] or UECNA[xiv] – all of which stand for current names and not even the many past labels or groups which have disappeared.  Further, all of these are relatively mainstream rather than just some of the horde of fringe groups.

Such a list speedily shows why some complain of an “alphabet soup” of church entities, both within and without the Archbishop of Canterbury’s old Lambeth association of churches.  (That Lambeth association is what we used to call “the Anglican Communion”, until some of its most prominent members began jettisoning essentials that have always marked Anglicanism as Catholic in the ancient sense.)

In contemplating this seemingly chaotic Anglican scene, we can try to make some sense out of the apparent disunity and disorder among those who call themselves “Anglicans”, especially if we recognize is that all of those who assume the label “Anglican”, even all those whose worship uses some traditional version of the Book of Common Prayer, do not in fact share the same beliefs and practices. 

If you doubt that, ask the members of any such group just two questions and tabulate for yourself the answers given you by members of these different groups.  The first of these shibboleths[i] is, “What authority do the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion have within your jurisdiction?”  The second key question is, “What does your group teach about the nature and operation of the Sacraments?  How many are there, and are they subjective or objective channels of Grace?”

Then, too, it is also important to remember that this seemingly hopeless confusion in the “Continuing Anglican” and larger “Anglican” scenes is just a subset of the larger mixture, seemingly a random olio, of communions, jurisdictions, denominations, and groups that litter the field of Christianity in general.  Non-Christians – and many Christians, too – are constantly amazed at the number and variety of Christian organizations, many of which are usually squabbling with some of the others or even with almost all of the others.

Of course, those who marvel and despair at this apparent Christian confusion conveniently forget the uneasy and often hostile relations between the four or five major movements within Islam, the two or three distinct streams of Buddhism, the several factions within Hinduism, or the four principal parties and numerous minor sects within Judaism.

The result of this myopic perspective is, all too often, an ill-considered call for “unity”, at any price and upon any terms, whether that unity be conceived on the macro scale as the merger of disparate Christian groups, as in the Churches of South India and of North India, or on the micro scale as the merger of disparate Anglican groups.   In either case, these proposals are floated without adequate provision for the real historic reasons that have led to those prospective merger partners’ separate existences.

Equally, such conceptualized mergers, whether macro-scale pan-Christian ones or micro-scale pan-Anglican ones, also overlook the very real and substantive degree of unity that already exists despite the formal distinctions between church corporations or juridical entities. 

As St. Paul reminded the Ephesians in today’s Epistle, they were, and we are, called to be “[E]ager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.”[i]  Baptism, of course, incorporates each of us into the body of Christ, thus uniting us in a fundamental way with all Christians, even with those who do not themselves believe that Baptism is anything more than a simple sign or mere memorial.

To borrow a phrase that is often used by some with whom we do not agree upon the basics of the Faith, this passage sets forth seven “instruments of unity” among Christians:

A.        We, who are dedicated to Christ in Baptism, are all one Body.

This profound truth, which has been taught by mainstream Christianity ever since it was first enunciated by St. Paul,[ii] is emphasized by the title of a wonderful old introductory text on the Catholic faith:  Ye are the Body[iii] by Bonnell Spencer.  But if we Christians all form what is in God’s eyes one body, then we already share a very real unity, despite any institutional or administrative diversity. 

B.        We, as Christians, are enlivened and guided by one Holy Spirit.

All orthodox Christians – that is “orthodox” with a lower case “o” – are baptized into the Church in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.[iv]  And notice notice that familiar phrase is in the Name, singular, of the Persons of the Trinity, not in their Names, plural.

In  this Sacrament, it is the Third Person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit, Who acts in that Sacrament and makes us members of Christ,[i] even when the celebrant of that Baptism does not accurately understand what the Church has always done in that Sacrament.[ii]  Further, Our Lord promised us, and the Church has always believed, that it is the Holy Spirit Who enlivens[iii] and guides[iv] the Church[v] so as to keep it from all essential error.

Thus, as St. Paul reminds the Ephesians, all who have received the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and who are thereby incorporated into that Church which the Holy Spirit invigorates and watches over, already share among themselves a very essential form of unity.

C.        We Christians hold fast to one hope of eternal salvation.

Several noticeable characteristics mark Christians off as different from the rest of humanity.  Of these, one of the principal ones is their hope that, with the Lord’s help, they will surmount death[vi] and be resurrected[vii] in their bodies.[viii]  Pagans and unbelievers have no such hope, or any other defense against the pains and disappointments of this uncertain physical life.

Thus it is that the two most ethical and admirable of the pagan philosophical systems, Stoicism and Epicureanism, could offer their adherents nothing better than the advice to avoid pain and disappointment, essentially by withdrawing themselves from most forms of social and political engagement.  Thus, too, it is that St. Peter exhorts us to “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you….”[ix] In contrast, as Christians, we share the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, something that distinguishes us from the non-Christian world so sharply that it effectively unifies all who possess it.

D.                We Christians acknowledge one Lord over us and over His Church.

Scripture attests to the Lordship of the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, Jesus Christ, over the world,[i] over His Church,[ii] and, therefore, over us who are the members of that Church.[iii]  Furthermore, we acknowledge that Lordship each time we recite one of the three historic Creeds of the Church.

And where all Christians acknowledge that they are the subjects of the same Lord, who can reasonably deny that they are united in that allegiance?

E.        We Christians adhere to the basic principles of one Faith.

We have already mentioned the three historic statements of the Faith of the Church, the Nicene, Apostles’, and Athanasian Creeds.  Historically, the entire Church, both East and West, adhered to the Nicene Creed and the entire Western Church adhered to the Apostles’ and Athanasian Creeds as well.  The entire Household of the Faith – the Catholic Church to which those Creeds refer – has always deemed them to be sufficient statements of the minimal beliefs that a faithful Christian must hold.

But if all Christians must believe, at bottom, the same essential things, then we are already united in the bases of our Faith and beliefs, however much we may differ on some of the minor details of that Faith or in our practices.

F. We Christians are incorporated into Our Lord’s Body through one Baptism.

Previously, we mentioned that the Holy Spirit is the One who acts in the Sacrament of Baptism.[i]  There is only one valid form of Baptism, that where either the baptizand is immersed in water or water is poured over the baptizand, while the celebrant pronounces that the subject is being baptized in the Name—again, Name singular--of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost – or Holy Spirit.[ii]

While some Christians have departed from the traditional understanding of what Baptism means, or of how essential it is to the Christian life, no one reasonably disputes that this, and this alone, is what the Church has always recognized as this Sacrament.

Where all Christians thus share this one unmistakable rite of entrance into our Faith, we also share unity on this essential point.   

G.  We Christians acknowledge the sovereignty of one God and Father of us all.

Scripture attests to the Fatherhood of the First Person of the Trinity, God the Father and Creator.[iii]  Furthermore, as is the case with the other two Persons of the Trinity, we acknowledge God the Father each time we recite one of the three historic Creeds of the Church.

And where all Christians acknowledge that they are the children of the same Father, they are necessarily united in one divine family.

IV.       Conclusion:

Thus, whether we are considering the larger issue of the apparent fragmentation of Christendom or the nearer one of the apparent fragmentation of traditional Anglicanism, we would do well to reflect on the seven essential aspects of unity that St. Paul set before the Ephesians in today’s Epistle.  When we do so, we must see that we are already far more unified than is otherwise suggested by our disagreements or disparities in practice.

Once we realize that we already have important forms of unity, we may be in a better frame of mind to continue to abide by, and to seek ever increasingly to exemplify, Paul’s urgent injunction:  “I, therefore, … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”[1]


The Rev’d Canon John A. Hollister[2]

[1] Ephesians 4: 1-3 (RSV).
[2] Priest Associate, Christ Anglican Catholic Church, Metairie LA.  Honorary Canon, the Diocese of the Resurrection, and Honorary Canon and Canon to the Ordinary, The Diocese of New Orleans, The Anglican Catholic Church.

[i] See Section III.B. supra.
[ii] Hall and Hallock, op. cit. 252-53.
[iii] Cf. St. Matthew 5: 45, 7: 11, 10:20 & 10: 32; St. Mark 8: 38 & 11: 25; St. Luke 10: 21-22 & 23: 46; St. John 1: 14. 

[i] St. Matthew 28: 18.
[ii] St. Luke 1: 32-33.
[iii] II Peter 1: 11.

[i] St. Matthew 3: 11; cf. St. John 1: 33, 3: 5, 6: 63, and Acts 11: 16; Francis J. Hall and Frank Hudson Hallock, Theological Outlines 3rd Ed. 217, 253 (Wipf & Stock Publishers 2004).
[ii] Hall and Hallock, op. cit. 252-53.
[iii] St. Luke 12: 12; Acts 1: 5 & 8.
[iv] St. John 14: 16-17, 14: 26, 15: 26.
[v] Hall and Hallock, op cit. 218-20.
[vi] St. John 11: 25.
[vii] St. John 6: 40.
[viii] Acts 23: 6 & 26: 6-7; cf. Romans 5: 2 & 15: 4; Galatians 5: 5; Colossians 1: 5; Titus 1: 2.
[ix] I Peter 3: 15 (RSV).

[i] Ephesians 4: 3-6 (RSV).
[ii] Ephesians 1: 22-23; 5: 30; Colossians 1: 18.
[iii] Society of the Holy Cross, 1990 (rev. ed. 1997).
[iv] St. Matthew 28: 19.

[i] Cf. Judges 12: 5-6.

[i] The Anglican Church in America, which is the U.S. representative of the TAC.
[ii] The Anglican Catholic Church, one of the original “St. Louis” or “Continuing Anglican” Churches of 1977-78.
[iii] The Anglican Church of North America, a name which was initially used by the ACC and is now used by North American aspirants to Lambeth Communion membership who organized themselves as a new Province in 2009.
[iv] The Anglican Mission in America, a 2000 – i.e., post-St. Louis – secession from PECUSA.
[v] The Anglican Province of America, a 1995 secession from the ACA.
[vi] The Anglican Province of Christ the King, one of the three “St. Louis” Churches of 1977-78.
[vii] The Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a 2006 – i.e., another post-St. Louis – secession from PECUSA.
[viii] The Diocese of the Holy Cross, a secession ca. 2005 from the APCK.
[ix] The Episcopal Missionary Church, a 1992 – i.e., post-St. Louis – secession from PECUSA.
[x] The Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas, a para-church fellowship.
[xi] Forward in Faith, a para-church fellowship which has two branches, FiF-NA or Forward in Faith – North America, and FiF-UK.  Despite its not being an actual church jurisdiction, it has “elected” and obtained consecration for at least two bishops who were identified as being consecrated for FiF, just as though it possessed both jurisdiction and mission.
[xii] The Reformed Episcopal Church, an 1873 – and thus pre-St. Louis – secession from PECUSA that formed in opposition to the growing influence of the Oxford Movement.
[xiii] The Traditional Anglican Communion, which is the international arm of the ACA.
[xiv] The United Episcopal Church of North America, a 1981 secession from the ACC which is therefore regarded as one of the three “St. Louis” Churches.

[i] Ephesians 4: 1-3 (RSV).