Saturday, November 30, 2013

Friday, November 29, 2013

Laymen's guide to the Thirty-nine Articles

Article XXVII - Of Baptism
Baptism is not only a sign of profession and a mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not Christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be sons of God by the Holy Ghost are visibly signed and sealed; Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.

The Baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable to the institution of Christ.

De Baptismo

Baptismus non est tantum professionis signum ac discriminis nota qua Christiani a non Christianis discernantur, sed etiam est signum regenerationis, per quod, tanquam per instrumentum, recte baptismum suscipientes Ecclesiae inseruntur; promissiones de remissione peccatorum atque adoptione nostra in filios Dei per Spiritum Sanctum visibiliter obsignantur; fides confirmatur, et vi divinae invocationis gratia augetur. Baptismus parvulorum omnino in Ecclesia retinendus est, ut qui cum Christi institutione optime congruat.


Archbishop Peter Robinson

The obvious basis of this Article is the equivalent article in the Confession of Augsberg. Lutherans and Anglicans alike were very traditional in their attitude to baptism, wishing to maintain the traditional doctrine of Baptism insofar as it conforms to Scripture. The obvious passage to reference is John 3.5
"Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God"


This occurs as part of Christ's dialogue with Nicodemus in the which the latter professes his bemusement at the concept of being born again - "Can a man enter a second time into the womb and be born again?" Jesus' explanation refers Nicodemus to being born again of water and the Spirit - i.e. the baptism which he was to institute at the time of his ascension. (Matt 28.19)

And this should be followed by Mark 16.16
"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned


This is the Biblical basis, along with other passages, for the Catechisms assertion that "Baptism and the Lord's Supper are generally necessary for salvation."

The same point is also made by Acts 2.38,
"Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."


These texts establish the repentance-baptism-holy Spirit linkage, and certainly suggests that the sacrament conveys grace objectively. That is to say that the person repents, receives baptism, and by that sacrament receives the forgiveness of sins, regeneration and the Holy Ghost, and is incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ. This runs contrary to the beliefs of many Christians today, who, under the influence of Revivalism seem to hold that the proper order is repentance-profession of faith/regeneration-baptism. This order of priorities was absorbed from the Baptist movement as part of the individualisation of Christian experience in the 17th century. This tendency had already been condemned in the 16th century by the Confession of Augsburg, and also in the 42 Articles of 1553 which document was compiled when memories of the Anabaptist Crisis were still strong.



The subjectivity of the Revivalist/Baptist view should be contrasted with what the Articles say in general about the Sacraments. The Articles of Religion make no secret of the fact that, for Anglicans, the sacraments convey grace and have an objective value or reality of their own. However, this should not be confused with the cruder versions of ex opus operato pedalled by some. The teaching that the sacraments are "effectual signs" is essentially Biblical in character, and had the consensus of the Early Fathers behind it. Article XXV states that

"Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and of God's good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our faith in him."

Within this framework room was found for substantial disagreement between those who saw the Sacraments as conveying the potential for regeneration - the charitable presumption theory beloved of moderate Calvinists such as J. C. Ryle; and the Old High Churchmen who taught that Baptism conveyed regeneration, imprinted a definite character on the soul, and the potential for salvation dependent of the "follow through" from the individual. The final point, concerning what some vulgarly describe as "follow through" is what led High Churchmen such as Edward Churton, and Tractarians, such as E. B. Pusey, to lay much emphasis on the seriousness of post baptismal sin as marring the image of God imprinted on our souls by baptism. 


Before leaving the subject, I think it might be worth looking at the passages that talk about Baptismal Regeneration in the New Testament. W. H. Griffith-Thomas points out that many of the references to baptism use the word 'eis' usually translated into/for/unto. He postulates that the translation of "eis" should really be 'with a view to.' This would tend to favour the notion of Baptism having a covenantal aspect making it easier to to explain why the Church approves of the practice of infant baptism. 

My own impression of the reason behind Credo-baptism is that in a sense it removes the sacramental aspect from Baptism as surely as the doctrine of transubstantiation overthrows the sacramental character of Communion. In this case, the error is not asserting too much (i.e. abolishing the sign) but negating the thing signified (that is, regeneration). Now allowing for the fact that Acts was not written as a theological text book, the order in which repentance, baptism and regeneration are placed tells us that the Apostles saw Baptism as the Sacrament of Regeneration, whereas the cruder expression of credo-baptist theology invert the order somewhat by making Baptism into simply a public profession of faith. Their order is closer to Repentance - Regeneration - Baptism. The sacrament is a seal of a pre-existing state. Once you adopt this line of attack infant baptism becomes illogical because they cannot make the required verbal profession of faith. 

Leaving aside emotive appeals to Jesus' instructions to His disciples to let the little children come unto Him, it seems to me that a rigid Credo-Baptist position runs into difficulties when one examines the accounts of the Baptism of the Centurion's Household (Acts 10, 47-48) and that of the Philippian gaoler (Acts 16, 27-34.) Both imply that the household was baptized on the surety (to borrow the BCP's word) of the head of the household's faith. Furthermore, it is a reasonable inference that both households contained children under the age of reason. These incidents, along with the unbroken practice of the Church, suggest that, at the very least, the baptism of infants on the understanding that they be brought up in the faith of the New Covenant is a doctrine agreeable to Scripture. On the other hand, it seems to be bordering on 'mumbo-jumbo' to indiscriminately baptize infants on the off-chance that they might come to faith later, even though their family circle has no connection at all with the Church. It seems to me that Art. XXVII's very moderate statement that

"The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church as most agreeable with the institution of Christ

as being both sensible and moderate in that it allows the full range of Baptismal practice as we see it in the Early Church. 

Now then, let us see if I can draw the various rabbit trails together into something we can use. 

It seems to me that Article XXVII specifically excludes the Zwinglian and Modern Baptist position that Baptism is simply a mark of profession. This seems reductionist when set against the witness of Scripture. This leaves us with two possible understandings. 

The first, which I would loosely characterize as being the 'Old High Church' position, is that Baptism conveys regeneration in the absence of a positive will not to receive the grace of the sacrament. The BCP acknowledges that "young children" cannot form that positive will to reject the grace offered. The understanding is that the child will be brought up in the faith, receive confirmation, and Communion, and grow in Grace and in faithfulness to Christ. This point of view crops up in one of the surviving prayers of Jane Austen-not surprising given that she was the daughter of an Oxford educated clergyman. 

To put it into crude terms. The second, alternative, point of view is that, like circumcision, Baptism creates a covenant relationship between the child and Christ incorporating them into the Church, so that, if the child by the call and election of God comes to faith, he/she will be truly regenerate. The sign of infant baptism further emphasizes that the salvation is a gift of God, not a work of man. As a result of this understanding of Baptism, Episcopal/Anglican Evangelicals often turned confirmation into 'a rite of conversion' in which the person being confirmed made their profession of faith. Interestingly, Episcopal Evangelicals in the 19th century were not all that hung up on 'the conversion experience.' One of their leaders, the Rt. Rev Gregory Bedell, professed that he had not consciously had a conversion experience, but had from his earliest memories always been conscious of God's love.


Fr. Robert Hart
Once again it is evident that the faith of the Church of England needed to be defended from all sides. One person I know described the Articles as “Thirty-nine reasons why we are not Roman Catholics.” But, in fact, the Articles often address commonly held errors of the time in which they were composed, and they remain relevant because they set forth, in Anglican terms and plain language, catholic truth. Some of the errors of the time were simply inherited from the Medieval period, some were openly taught at the time by the Church of Rome, and some came from other sources altogether. In this case, the errors addressed came from the Anabaptists. The correction and defense set forth in Article XXVII  remains relevant as long as Revivalists denounce the baptism of infants and young children.
            When the first missionary Bishop of Minnesota was asked by a child why he had baptized him in infancy, Bishop Henry B. Whipple replied that it would have been wrong to withhold from the child regeneration, and his adoption by God in Christ.1 This was a good answer to a child who was being raised in the Episcopal Church in the 1860s. How do we answer the detractors of our own time? Since the Baptists and other Revivalists of today, as the Anabaptists in the past, claim to believe in the Divine Inspiration of Scripture, as we also believe, it is fitting to answer their objection from Scripture:

“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call (Acts 2:38,39).”

To the Jewish people of that time, there can be no reasonable doubt as to the clear meaning of the words, “every one of you,” nor to the meaning of, “For the promise is unto you and to your children…”
            What many fail to understand is the simple truth expressed above by Archbishop Robinson: “The sacrament conveys grace objectively.” That is what is taught in the words, “…a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be sons of God by the Holy Ghost are visibly signed and sealed.”
            As I have told my congregation in sermons, I baptize, but it is God who does the actual work. That is, the sign is visible when a man uses water and says the words Christ commanded. But the real work is done by God, who regenerates and gives life. It is clear that the ultimate salvation of the individual, as that child grows and lives life, requires faith. But the objective reality of what takes place in the sacrament is taught clearly in Scripture, especially in the sixth chapter of Romans. If one's death, burial and resurrection with Christ is not a regeneration, pray tell, what is it? The meaning of new life in Christ, regeneration and being born again from above (taking it from the top, as the Greek word implies) is inescapable as St. Paul the Apostle explains it so clearly in that chapter.

In the book of the prophet Jeremiah, we see the manifold grace that is given in the New Covenant.

"Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer. 31:31-34)."

It is with these gifts in view that we baptize. The grace given, as we see in the prophet's words, includes one's entrance into Christ, and therefore into the New Covenant He established in His blood. Having God's Law written on one's heart, becoming one of God's people (one of His elect and beloved), knowing God and receiving the forgiveness of sins, are all part of the grace given in baptism. We dare believe it. Teaching baptized people about all of these things is not so that they may choose to receive them separately. Rather, it is to teach them what they have been given by being in Christ, made a part of His Body the Church in baptism.      

1. Rt. Rev. H.B. Whipple, Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate, New York, 1902

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sunday Before Advent

Jeremiah 23:5-8 * John 6:11-14

It may seem bold to do so, but I will speak from experience about the sight of miracles. Miracles look perfectly natural to the eye, even though the rational mind perceives the impossibility of what is happening. When I saw the miracles of a deformed shoulder straightened instantly, or of my mother's spine healed within seconds, these miracles looked like a work of nature. They did not appear as something spectacular, the way Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille teamed up to make the parting of the Red Sea into a cinema graphic production. It is more akin to seeing a tulip bulb open, something wonderful, and not appearing like magic tricks. Miracles are clearly not a mere work of nature, and by the "laws" that scientists know, they are manifestly impossible, even when they are manifest. This is because the same Artist and the same brush strokes are evident both in nature by creation, and in miracles by extraordinary intervention. It is the same God, and the same, if I may use the word, style.

Today's Gospel tells of a miracle by which Jesus fed thousands of people by multiplying a meal so small that it was next to nothing. This was no problem for God, who made the entire universe out of nothing in the creatio ex nihilo. Jesus fed the thousands of hungry people using the same power he had as the Word, the Logos, through whom all things were made, and without whom was not anything made that was made. More significant than the miracle, from his perspective, was the lesson he would later teach from it. Before we look at that lesson, let us draw out one more fact. Here Jesus provided the material needs of the people, just as he promises that our needs will be met if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. How easily we may forget that God is the Provider of all things, even if it is only by forgetting that everything exists due to the first miracle, creation itself, creation out of nothing, creation by his word. It is not simply nature at work that grows wheat; the wheat grows because of the miracle of creation; and people who fail to believe in miracles ultimately cannot explain how anything came to be. Even the "Big Bang" is not a theory of origin, but of process, how the universe was like an egg that hatched in an explosion. If so, where did the essential elements of that "egg" come from? The origin of the universe and of all creation was a miracle, for it came from nothing, and it was made by the word of God. God provides for us, and we should not think that it is a challenge for him to provide, even to make what we need if it is nowhere to be found.

But the lesson, the lesson we are given in the sixth chapter of John, where today's Gospel is found, is that this bread that Jesus multiplied represents Himself, the true food we need.

"And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."(v.35)

"Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever." vs.53-58

To the ancient Church in St. John's day, reading these words for the first time, it was obvious that the Lord himself had interpreted their meaning on a later occasion: "The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me."(I Cor.11:23-25)

Nonetheless, we must not think that feeding on Christ is merely the mechanical act of eating this bread and drinking this cup, and nothing more. In the 17th chapter of John, the third verse, we read these words: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." And, in the same words of warning, where St. Paul tells of the danger of partaking of the Communion in an unworthy manner, without (as our liturgy puts it) "hearty repentance and true faith," we see him affirming the reality of Christ in this sacrament. And, that is why even the words of warning are words of hope. Last week I said:

"We come here today to feed on the living Christ through the sacrament of his body and blood, and so receive his life to save us from sin and death. Modern people have cut out of our Prayer of Humble Access a little phrase that confuses them, 'Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.' They reason that the body cannot be sinful, since it is only a machine without volition. I understand that. But, the very fact that death is, as taught in the Law of Moses, an unclean thing, quite justifies the words of our Anglican prayer. Really, it expresses the glorious hope of St. John's words in the Epistle. As we learn from the sixth chapter of John's Gospel: 'Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.' (v.54) Our sinful bodies, that is, our bodies that are subject to death, are purified and cleansed by eating this sacrament with faith and thanksgiving; our souls are washed as we receive this sacrament of his blood. I love the words from our Prayer of Humble Access, for they speak of the glorious hope that awaits us by the mercy and goodness of God in his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."

The glorious hope we have in Christ is certified, verified and imparted when we partake with "hearty repentance and true faith." In the words of Article XXV: The Dominical sacraments are the means "by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him." Quicken means to make alive, and so we receive the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, the One in whom is life. That is, life that gives life by the creative power of God, the power he has as the Word, the Logos. For this sacrament to be our life, instead of eating and drinking condemnation, we must live the life of knowing God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. It is not simply the mechanical act of eating and drinking (indeed, if that is all it is for you, then do not receive it). Receiving the sacrament of Christ's body and blood is to feed on the living Christ, the risen Christ, and to receive the Christ who is present among us. It must be part of the whole life of faith, and of knowing God. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity

 If in any year there be twenty-six Sundays after Trinity, the service for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany shall be used on the Twenty-fifth Sunday. 
(Continuum readers: It is always wise to read the appointed readings from scripture first.)

I John 3:1-8
 * Matthew 24:23-31

The Gospel today is quite sober. It warns of false messiahs and false prophets. "Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." Aside from the very simple and troubled people who get into cults and follow false prophets and false christs, the danger exists of following a more sophisticated falsehood. Where religious error cannot cause great dangers to peoples and nations, political ideology often can. From the time of the French revolution and throughout the time that has followed, political ideology has been a curse of the modern world. It carries the idea that we can establish Utopia on earth if we have the right policies. But, there is no place upon earth that can be perfected, or become a perfect society. The problem that plagues every nation and people is not simply imperfect political structures. The problem is sin and death. It is a false gospel that teaches us to settle for nothing more than some man-made human effort at perfection.

The problem is more basic, and the solution is more radical.

In two weeks the Church's new year begins again, and the Gospel appointed for that Sunday will tell of the Lord entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, entering the temple and driving out the money changers. It always seemed strange to me that the penitential season in which we emphasize the End, the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, takes us back to a specific day in history that ushered in the events of Holy Week, leading to his cross and to his resurrection from the dead. Specifically, we will hear of Jesus driving the money changers out of the house of God, cleansing the temple. On that first Sunday in Advent we read that and look backward in time, and that is what seemed strange to me, or out of place. Why not look ahead to his second coming, using passages such as our selected readings for today, or perhaps others that deal with eschatology and the last things? The answer has everything to do with the Epistle and Gospel for today.

Two weeks from now, when we read the Gospel on that first Sunday in Advent, we will be given a picture from our Lord's earthly life, when he came the first time and lived among sinful men, a picture from that day that foretells in a very real way what it means that he will come to judge the quick and the dead. In light of his second coming, we must use this time as the opportunity to prepare ourselves to appear before Christ. St. Peter wrote, "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" (I Pet. 4:17) As Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem, so judgment begins with his temple, the Church which is that temple made of living stones, you and me. So we ought to make ourselves ready for the day in which we shall see him face to face, a day which shall strike terror into an unbelieving world, but that day that will be the fulfillment of all our glorious hope.

We say in Creed, "And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose (that is Christ's) kingdom shall have no end." Make no mistake about it. The only teaching that Christians have ever been given, the only doctrine ever received by the Church and so taught by the Church, is that our ultimate hope is not the intermediate state in heaven or some place of preparation and cleansing (as real as that is); but rather, our ultimate hope is to rise again from the dead and to share the immortal and eternal life of the resurrected Christ. Let me put it simply: Easter is not only an event that happened in the past when Christ rose from the dead; it is for us also the future, when we shall also rise from the dead at his coming. So, in the words of today's Epistle: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." This is our hope, our sure and certain hope of the resurrection.

The Apostle John goes on to tell us the effect that this hope must always have, the manifestation of Christian hope that comes from God's promise of eternal life, our share in Christ's resurrection and complete victory over death: "
And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he(that is, as Christ) is pure." So it is that a true believer cooperates even now with the Lord Jesus Christ in the cleansing of this temple, the Church; and cooperates with the Holy Spirit since each member of the Body of Christ is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is with us for many reasons, such as giving us power for service, gifts by which we help one another, some gifts supernatural in an obvious way and others in a hidden way; and the Holy Spirit is in us to give us utterance of the mysteries of God, boldly to make known the truth of his salvation to the world around us. In today's Epistle we see that he is a cleansing fire burning away the dross of sin, unbelief and every unholy fear. St. John says that everyone who has this hope purifies himself, namely the hope that we will see the risen and glorified Lord at his coming, and be ourselves transformed and made like him. If we are to purify ourselves, above all else, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit as he sanctifies and makes us ready as a people prepared for the Lord. This is a necessary part of our continued sojourn on earth. This must be part of my life and yours.

Our dross must be cleansed away, and only so can the godly character of virtue, the very character of Jesus Christ, grow in us. I say grow, because we cannot manufacture that life of Christ within ourselves. We have no power to produce it by our own effort. It is planted as a seed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ. When I was in Arizona it shocked me to hear a member of my church say, after several months of hearing my preaching, that she thought the whole point of religion was only to make us "better people." Death must be defeated, for it cannot be made better, and the state into which we were born was sin and death. "Better" may be better, rather than worse, but some relative measure of how dead sin and death is, cannot come to our rescue. The work of the Holy Spirit is much more radical, beginning in the waters of baptism where we have died to sin, were buried with Christ and then risen to begin life anew. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians about the difference between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. Works are made, but fruit is grown. The virtuous life of Christ's own character grows in us, above all charity, that love of God described in I Corinthians chapter 13. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, and only of the Holy Spirit.

So, when St. John writes of a hope that makes the believer "purify himself" to be like the Lord Jesus Christ, the first and obvious point is our need to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. So, he writes in the present tense. What he says seems impossible: "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him."This is the same Apostle, and in fact the same Epistle, where we find this in the opening chapter: "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." (1:8-10) If we are to understand why this is not a contradiction, the same effort to think this through will also help us with his other phrase, that if we have this hope of sharing Christ's resurrection we will purify oursleves "as he is pure." For John never tells us that if we have sinned-past tense-that we do not know Christ.

The use of present tense, "whosoever sinneth," indicates very strongly a willingness to live without repentance, and therefore a willingness to live without God. Every day I look back on my thoughts, words and deeds, and I know that I have sinned. That is very different from making the decision to accept sin as the way of life. I know that I have sinned by the end of each day, rather each hour. But, this is a war, and I do not plan to make peace with sin. Past tense, I have sinned: Present and future tense, I want to follow Christ and know him, and I want to change and become holy. This answer may seem simplistic, but it works. It is the meaning of our powerful invitation to the General Confession: "Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life..." Please, always pay attention to these words, and prepare yourselves with them in mind.

We come here today to feed on the living Christ through the sacrament of his body and blood, and so receive his life to save us from sin and death. Modern people have cut out of our Prayer of Humble Access a little phrase that confuses them, "Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us." They reason that the body cannot be sinful, since it is only a machine without volition. I understand that. But, the very fact that death is, as taught in the Law of Moses, an unclean thing, quite justifies the words of our Anglican prayer. Really, it expresses the glorious hope of St. John's words in the Epistle. As we learn from the sixth chapter of John's Gospel: "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. " (John 6:54) Our sinful bodies, that is, our bodies that are subject to death, are purified and cleansed by eating this sacrament with faith and thanksgiving; our souls are washed as we receive this sacrament of his blood. I love the words from our Prayer of Humble Access, for they speak of the glorious hope that awaits us by the mercy and goodness of God in his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The powerful salvation of God, the glorious hope of the believer, is to be transformed after the pattern of the risen Christ's own immortality, and to be given a share in the power of his unending life. The readings today provide a stark contrast, a contrast we must all heed. We have two ways set before us, the way of life and the way of death. The way of life is this: "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God."The other way, the way of death, is the way of fear that has only dread and no hope. The fear that is described by the Lord in the reading from St. Matthew contrasts sharply with the joyous hope in the Epistle. The Lord speaks words of warning, saying that the tribes of the earth shall mourn. Recall those words written in the Book of Isaiah, and quoted by Christ, that they will beg the mountains and rocks to hide them from the face of the Lord. But, when the true believers see the Lord, they will be changed into his image: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." When the unrepentant people of the earth see the same Lord, they want to run for cover out of fear. This is the difference between faith and unbelief, and it is the difference between knowing the Lord and being a stranger to him. Upon seeing him, will you be terrified or transformed? If we know him, and prepare for his coming, we cannot help but rejoice when he appears.

We have been given many great and glorious promises, all of them personally guaranteed by our Lord on the cross where he died to take away all of our sins, and certified when he rose from the dead on that first Easter, that Passover from death to life, testified and verified in the blood of martyrs. This is our past and the testimony of the Church for every people and all time, that they saw him alive again after his resurrection; and it is our future. We look back to Easter and see his resurrection; we look ahead to Easter, and receive our part in his resurrection when he shall come again.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

At the Provincial Synod of the ACC last month, Bishop Rene Canillo and the 
Missionary District of the Philippines were received into the ACC. This 
happy news has in recent days, been overshadowed by the disaster visited 
upon the people of the Philippines in Typhoon Haiyan. Bishop Canillo has 
requested prayers and aid for his people, and we are in a position to 
help. In addition to offering up your prayers, donations may be made 
through the Missionary Society of St. Paul. To do so online, click the 
link below.

http://anglicancatholic.org/news/Bishop-Canillo-requests-prayers-and-aid-for-churches-people-of-Philippines

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity


Col. 1:3-12 * Matt. 9:18-26
Taken together, the Epistle and Gospel appointed for today speak to the reality of everything we do here. St Paul writes to the Colossians about their knowledge of God, a thing essential to the life of every Christian, and the very definition of eternal life. Jesus had said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”1 This hearkens back to the thirty-first chapter of the book of the prophet Jeremiah, who foretold the New Covenant, that New Covenant that our Lord spoke of as established in his own blood on that night in which he was betrayed. To know God is at the heart of the New Covenant, which contains this promise: “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”2
Here, in the Epistle, St. Paul speaks openly and simply about the knowledge of God; he assumes that his readers do, in fact, know God. The idea that God might be a stranger to the home, and the heart, of any Christian was unfathomable to him. This speaks to the reality of the Christian life of faith; it is not simply a matter of form, and it is never a matter of anything we should call “blind faith.”
Our faith is not blind. Unbelief is blind. Rationalism is blind. The darkness of willful unrepentant sin is the darkness of blindness. But, faith sees, and sees clearly. God remains above and beyond our comprehension, so that we cannot describe him, except by St. Paul’s chapter on charity. That is, we cannot explain God, or know how to define his power, his wisdom or his essence. Nonetheless, this unknowable God has made himself known, and he has revealed himself by the Word made flesh, the only mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. 3 “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” 4 said our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot comprehend God, we cannot describe God, we cannot understand God, and yet we can know God. He has made himself known, he has revealed himself in his word, and above all the Word made flesh, his only begotten Son. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” 5
And, we can know his will. He has not hidden it away for the wise and learned, but revealed it. Some of that revelation is so simple that we teach it to our children in their earliest years- or, that is, we should. We teach them the Ten Commandments, the Summary of the Law, and to pray “Our Father. “ We begin to teach right from wrong at a very early age. This is part of knowing the will of God. As we mature, and need wisdom, we have the wonderful gift of Holy Scripture to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.”6
According to the Wisdom Literature of the Scriptures, such books Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus (or Sirach), Wisdom and Ecclesiastes, the essence of wisdom is moral rather than intellectual. The wise man is a godly and righteous man, and the fool is the one who lives in sin without the fear of God. So, the essence of wisdom is moral rather than intellectual. The wise man is a godly and righteous man, and the fool is the one who lives in sin without the fear of God. Someone who has his gaze fixed always and only on the things of this world, and lives as if he is naturally immortal, and will not face judgment, is a fool, no matter how high an IQ he may possess.
True wisdom knows the very thing that genuine science constantly rediscovers. No matter how much knowledge we learn, our ignorance outweighs it all. Every valid scientific discovery adds to our ignorance. How can that be? Simply put, the proportion of human ignorance against human knowledge grows by every major discovery, because every discovery opens more questions than we had before. The arrogance of late 19th century and early 20th century Rationalism should have been blown away forever by the major discoveries of Einstein, and by every advance in modern physics. But, we still run into people who think there is a conflict between faith and science, and who are unaware of the great number of religious people, Christians and Jews, among the world’s prominent physicists. Of course, this is not just an absence of wisdom, but also of education.
But, more to the point, the complexity of the physical universe tells us that the mind of God is beyond all human comprehension. The very complexity that makes up what we call matter, and what we call energy, is enough that we should see how far above our comprehension God is. Yet, even though his creation is beyond our finite minds, and himself completely hidden, we know God. Furthermore, St. Paul tells us that we know his will, and that he opens the eyes of our understanding to know it as we need to. Listen again to his words:
“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might,6 according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”
If we approach what we do here today as simply a matter of form and nothing more, how can today’s scripture readings enter into hearts and minds to renew us? I say this because I have been among traditional Anglicans long enough to know that a very great number of our dear brethren have never sought to penetrate the deep meaning and reality of our faith. I was acquainted with the term “Shinto Episcopalians.” I asked what it meant. In Japan, the Shinto religion is very old, and no one knows anything about any teaching associated with it. Those who practice it observe the rituals very strictly, but have no knowledge of what they mean. Some people have very strong opinions about how to do a Church service “correctly.” They have their own mental rubrics from a lifetime in church. But, how many of these details really matter if we fail to worship God in spirit and in truth? Recall these words from John’s Gospel:
“The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But 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. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”8
Today’s Gospel reading shows the power of Jesus Christ to raise the dead at his will, and the power of true faith to apprehend his promise. The woman who had the flow of blood was able to get to the heart of true sacramental theology; not that she knew what she was doing in those terms. The grace of God was present in the Word made Flesh, in Jesus Christ who was walking among the large crowd of people. She pressed through the crowd to touch a simple material thing. She reached out to touch the hem of his garment as he walked, a thing so simple and mundane, and so very material. You know, as a Byzantine Catholic priest said to me once, everything you need for the sacraments can be found in a proper Mediterranean kitchen. Wine, water, olive oil, flour- just a few simple things. The hem of Christ’s garment was a simple thing. It was a real material thing.
The sacraments work this way. They all stem from the incarnate Christ. He is present in the world that he created, having added to his Eternal and Uncreated Person the created matter and nature of everything that is truly human. From the fact of his incarnation, his human nature that tabernacled among us, the physical matter of his human body that walked the earth complete with a human mind and soul, and from the garment in which he clothed it, grace flowed out and healed the woman.
        Yes, you can go through the Form very properly; but, in addition to that, your real need is to reach out and touch the hem of Christ’s garment. You come to this sacrament today in very real need. You cannot even keep your own soul alive. No cleverness, no correctness of rubrical directions, and no proper performance will save you from sin and death. You must come “with hearty repentance and true faith” to "take this sacrament to your comfort." You are subject to sin and death, without hope of eternal life unless you lay hold on the grace of God as you pass through this life. You are not coming to receive this sacrament because you deserve to have it, but because you need it. You need to feed on the bread of life, to be saved from sin and death by consuming the food and drink of eternal life.9 You need Jesus. You are coming in that need to reach out and touch the hem of his garment. Without this faith, without this knowledge of God, without this humility, without dependence and reliance on his grace and on his power, you would be lost and doomed. I like correct Form. But, you are coming for something in addition. You need to receive the Matter with the Intention of feeding on the Living Christ. This sacramental life is the life of faith, and it is based on knowing God.


1. John 17:3
2. Jeremiah 31:31-34
3. I Timothy 2:5
4. John 14:9
5. John 1:18
6. Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent.
7. δύναμις
8. John 4:19-24
9. John 6:26-59

Friday, November 01, 2013

Holy Communion

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread (I Corinthians 10:16,17).

From what is often assumed, we would think that the Lord’s words of Institution begin with, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” But, in fact those words begin with “Take eat,” and “Drink this all of you.” Understood, in light of the very word “Communion” as used by St. Paul, this is the strongest meaning we can find of what we call Real Presence. His later words, “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (I Corinthians 11:27),” underscore this point, inasmuch as they concern the actual eating and drinking of the sacramental elements.
One of the criticisms leveled at Anglicans by our critics in the Roman Communion, is that we emphasize receiving the sacrament to a point where we have been charged with a doctrine they call “Receptionism.” This charge is leveled at us by those for whom the sacramental presence of Christ seemingly must be understood before one can worthily receive, and that a change takes place at some specific point in the service. It is believed that this change transforms bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and that from then on they are no longer bread and wine in any sense (this does not square exactly with the words of the Apostle quoted above, who still uses the word “bread” about the eating). They become, instead, objects to be worshiped and adored.  
On the other hand, a criticism leveled at us by several Protestants is that our practices are, what they call, “Too Catholic.” Some Anglicans do indeed engage in sacramental devotions in the presence of the Reserved Sacrament. But, for some of the critics it is too much that we have priesthood and an altar at all. It is my contention that Anglicans have no business using either the phrase “Too Catholic” or “Too Protestant,” and certainly not regarding the Blessed Sacrament. Aside from a betrayal of our Via Media position, use of such terms fails to take into account that Luther’s Real Presence was no less literal and absolute than Transubstantiation (and we certainly see Luther as a Protestant). It was different, but just as focused on the change occurring at some specific point.
At the risk of being charged with “Receptionism,” I will remind our readers that for Richard Hooker, and other early Anglican fathers, exactly when and how the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ is immaterial. Whenever and however this takes place, whether at the Words of Institution or some other point, what matters is that they become for us the body and blood of Christ. Until they are received they have not been used for the purpose of their institution. It is further believed that without faith on the part of the receiver, indeed, “Hearty repentance and true faith,” receiving the sacrament is of no benefit, and indeed just the opposite: detrimental. So much of this is basic Anglicanism, and apparent in Articles and homilies, that it is not a matter to be disputed.

Communion, fellowship and partaking
The word “Communion,” as used twice by St. Paul concerning the body and blood of Christ (respectively), is a very significant word. The same word is translated in the New Testament as “Fellowship (e.g. I John 1:3).” The same word is used in II Peter 1:4 for partake, saying that we are destined to become “Partakers of the divine nature” if we remain in the grace of God. That Greek word, translated so variously, is koinōnia.
The implications take us beyond the very private manner in which we regard this sacrament. It is our communion and fellowship with Christ, and it is our partaking of Him. It is obvious that whenever the English reformers and Anglican writers used any of those three words (communion, fellowship and partake) they were conscious of the Greek word koinōnia.
The Scriptural meaning remains no matter how we perceive of the words. There is an obvious connection between our individual reception of the sacrament and membership in the Body of Christ. And in some mysterious way that very reception, accompanied by faith, is communion and fellowship with Christ and a partaking of Christ. Furthermore, it is not strictly a private matter between any one of us and God, in which our relationships in the Church are of no importance. It is Apostolic fellowship (I John 1:3) and fellowship with one another, “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”
Is it any wonder, then, why St. Paul opens his rebuke and warning to the Corinthian Christians with a reminder of the betrayal of our Lord by Judas Iscariot? “The Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread…(I Corinthians 11:23)” The Apostle was not writing liturgy, but an authoritative warning and correction to those who mistreated and neglected their brothers and sisters in Christ while presuming to receive the sacrament.
The mystery of the Body of Christ the Church, and His body in the bread we eat, are inseparable. For the health of the Church, the Body of Christ, and for the good of our souls, we need to understand the Real Presence in terms of koinōniaand all that it means, both with God and with one another.
          

          

All Saints Day Nov. 1

Click on the link here.