Friday, September 13, 2019

Benevolence Fund Update


The money amount goal of this campaign (begun in April) keeps increasing because the “goal” is a programmed formality of the website. The needs of the poor do not simply stop when a “goal” is reached. This week, in addition to calls for help to purchase emergency food and medicines, we already have a family faced with a power turn-off notice. This Go Fund Me campaign is how our small church can help the poor. So far, every penny raised has met an emergency need. We need more for what is, inevitably, coming. CLICK HERE TO GIVE.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Kittels and Quislings


On my Facebook timeline I have begun to employ a noun that is of my own devising. I refer to a kind of Christian, most often of a clergyman or theologian, as a Kittel. Just like the word Quisling, it is taken from the name of someone associated with the second world war. And, just like the word Quisling, it is not complimentary. Nor is it merely insulting. It is more in the nature of a very serious warning.
            At this very moment of history we are witnessing something that distinguishes people of conscience from the common herd. I say that fully aware of the danger of allowing myself to fall into the error of self-righteousness, or of comparing myself to others I see as sinners, in the manner of the Pharisee in our Lord’s parable. Nonetheless, that is not the only danger, and the danger of which I warn you, if I call you a Kittel, is consequential and frightening to the point where I must speak up.
            Earlier today I was informed that fifty-seven percent of white Evangelicals in the United States believe that only a Christian can be a real American. I began to think: One problem with their current state of mind is that denying status as an American has become one step away from dehumanizing people. I see dehumanizing, narrowly defining personhood, an exercise meant to deny personhood to certain other people, as the antithesis of what I believe as a Christian, and thus the opposite of what I preach as a priest and theologian. My Faith boldly teaches that “God became human so that man would become Divine (St. Athanasius).” That’s the opposite of dehumanization, and it adds a further link that connects love of God with love of neighbor. The refugee is my neighbor, the poor woman trying to feed her children is my neighbor (and, yes, the child in the womb is my neighbor too). Of course, even Donald Trump is also my neighbor- so, I pray for him (who needs it more?), largely praying that he will change. 
I don’t see this major theological belief of traditional Christianity that I have mentioned, the Incarnation, in the political and social apologetics of the Trump-supporting Evangelicals. I warn some of them (especially clergy who have become corrupted by Trumpism) that they are following in the footsteps of Gearhard Kittel. I feel like Jeremiah prophesying in the temple. Our Rabbi, Jesus, taught us that the two greatest commandments in Torah are the commandments of love for God and for neighbor.
        It is not only Evangelicals who are erring in this. I see the same online behavior in Christians of various different denominations, or I hear it in conversation. I have come across it even among some of my fellow Continuing Anglican clergy. One essential fact of life for us, if we believe our Faith as it has been handed down from Christ and His Apostles, is that our moral reasoning must be based on the Word of God, most clearly the teaching of our own Rabbi, our Lord. He laid it out very clearly, and we must read the Sermon on the Mount, the Summary of the Law (those two greatest commandments), the Parable of the sheep on the King’s right hand and the goats on his left hand, as well as everything else He said, without equivocation (as in, without “yes, but”). He warned, in closing the Sermon on the Mount, that if we hear His teaching and do not obey it, we will be like the foolish man who built his house on the sand.
        I have for several years warned my own congregation, as well as many who “click here” to listen to my sermons, that if you are overly loyal to a political party or to a candidate eventually you will find yourself arguing to defend injustice and atrocity. As an American I appreciate a paradox our Founding Fathers expressed, that government is necessary, but also a hungry beast that we must, as Thomas Jefferson observed, “Tie down with the chains of the Constitution.” Political partisan loyalty is a hungry beast also. However, that kind of loyalty is not necessary at all, and should be treated like an insurance policy that you are willing to replace with one that appears to be better or more competitively priced. Political leaders, when they go too far and exercise power that is unrestrained by just laws, want to devour your conscience. They want to own and control it.
The heart of the matter is this: If you align your moral reasoning with political ideology and loyalty, you must betray Jesus Christ at some point. Instead, base all your moral reasoning on His word. For a long time we have rightly pointed out the error of those whose political loyalty causes them to look the other way at, or even champion, the destruction of children in the womb. Make no mistake: Abortion is a convenience for people who want to engage in sexual relations as if there should be no natural consequence, as if pregnancy itself is somehow a strange and unnatural event. Thus, they refuse to acknowledge what we know to be true. The child in the womb is thy neighbor; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. In the name of sexual immorality, or of worldly power masquerading as a just form of equality, they defend injustice. And, often, they do so only out of partisan loyalty.
But, the refugee at the border is also thy neighbor. Whether it is a father or a mother, or a little child too young to be separated from his parents, that refugee, that asylum seeker, is thy neighbor. Dehumanizing such desperate individuals as “illegals” (as if a person can be illegal), or justifying the neglect and outright abuse that observers have witnessed and reported, is also a great evil. Refusing to believe a member of Congress, not because she has a record of telling lies, but because you are at odds with her politics; spreading the lie that her testimony simply cannot be true despite the fact that 9,500 members of the Customs and Border Patrol were caught red-handed as members of the infamous “10-15” Facebook group (which makes Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s accusation more than believable, whatever arguments you may have with her on specific issues); making legalistic arguments about how properly to apply for asylum (mostly erroneous nonsensical arguments); parroting lies from the President that the adults are not really the parents of the children (for which he has no evidence); laughing when Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners that the asylum seekers are better off drinking toilet water because it’s a “step up for them (just as he once justified the atrocities at Abu Graib as “letting off steam”);” and generally reciting the talking points of the worst op-ed talking heads on FOX News, simply makes you a mouthpiece of evil propaganda.
Obviously, there are various arguments that can be made for how best to absorb the many people fleeing here from the dangers of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and, yes, for sending some of them back across the border. But to justify neglect and abuse is never morally right. Furthermore, you already know that, and you make arguments that can only sear your conscience with a hot iron.
Donald Trump, whatever achievements you may wish to give him credit for (something that can be argued another day), has grown a loyal following largely by  inciting fear, which leads to hate. He continues to do so as he goes into the next election. This political tactic is (as much as this name is invoked too frequently with no real justification) a page out of the Hitler handbook. He dehumanized a whole group of people in order to build his following on the fears and hate of prejudiced people. He was supported by some of the clergy, though opposed by many of them as well. The worst of the clergy who supported Hitler, and spread his propaganda, was Gearhard Kittel. I never use the phrase “The wrong side of history.” It is a silly term indeed. Nonetheless, do not let history brand you, some day, as a Kittel.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Looking Awry at Resurrection Bodies

by David Bentley Hart


James Ware has taken exception in these “pages” (or however one describes a web-journal) to an earlier article of mine on Paul’s metaphysics of the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15. Now, everything I said in that original piece was—let me brash up front—both entirely correct and entirely uncontroversial among serious scholars of late antiquity, as well as among good New Testament scholars who have a deep training in Graeco-Roman intellectual history. In a sense, I feel no need to defend myself in that regard. I do feel compelled, however, to point out that Ware in fact did not attack me for what I said so much as for what he imagined I was saying; and that, moreover, his misunderstanding regarding the import of my argument is a splendid example of precisely the kind of habitual misreading of Christian scripture I originally set out to expose. Because, as I said there, the principal difficulty we have today in understanding the exquisitely abstruse spiritual and speculative language of the earliest Christian writers is the result of our (almost inevitable) tendency tacitly to superimpose our modern categories on texts from an age that thought in very different forms.

Read the rest by clicking here

Friday, May 31, 2019

Fr. Laurence Wells Buletin Insert for Ascensiontide

from the archives:

The word “humanism” usually does not sound good in Christian conversation.  When preachers describe someone as a “humanist” it is probably not to pay a compliment.  These terms have unfortunately been kidnapped or surrendered to an atheistic point of view which claims that man is the measure of all things.  Human history is mostly the out-working of the serpent’s false promise, “ye shall be as gods, knowing [i.e. determining] good and evil.”  The net result of that deceit is man’s vain-glorious ambition displayed at the tower of Babel, “let us make a name for ourselves.”This insolent rebellion continues to manifest itself  in godless secularism, our futile attempt to live as if God did not exist.

Ascension Day offers us a clear and hopeful alternative to the humanism which led Adam and Eve into spiritual exile in a harsh and cruel world of toil and sweat, or the frustration and confusion of the Tower of Babel.
When our dear Lord was “taken up” He did not cease to be human.  The central truth of our precious faith is summed up in the word Incarnation:  in Jesus Christ God truly became man, taking not only our nature but submitting to our condition also, our frailty and our mortality.  But this was no brief or temporary episode. He not only became man at Bethlehem  or lived as a man at Nazareth or Capernaum He died as a man at Calvary and was Raised as a man on the “third day.”  At his Ascension He carried our human nature into heaven, taking our true flesh and blood into the very presence of His Father. In His Ascension we see at last a humanism worthy of the name.
On Ascension Day we have an answer to the question of Psalm 8:4, “What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou visitest him?”  As the Lord Jesus was taken up, the God incarnate, Man divine, was truly crowned with glory and honour.” 
In the Ascension of Jesus Christ we celebrate not only His exaltation but our own final destiny.  As He was raised, so we shall be raised from the dead.  As He was taken up, we too will be exalted in the presence of His Father.

He promised, “I go to prepare a place for you....In my father’s house there are many mansions.” The Proper Preface for Ascensiontide declares, “That where He is, thither we might also ascend, and reign with Him in glory.”  Here is a genuine humanism worthy of the name.


There is no hymn in our hymnal more audacious than Bishop Wordsworth great hymn, "See the conqueror mounts in triumph" with its bold line, "man with God is on the throne."  No modern secular humanist ever went so far. 

ASCENSIONTIDE


Acts 1:1-11
Luke 24: 49-53
The opening of the Book of Acts should remind us of an Old Testament story that foreshadows Christ's Ascension. 


And Elijah said unto him, Tarry, I pray thee, here; for the LORD hath sent me to Jordan. And he said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on. And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off: and they two stood by Jordan. And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground. And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so. And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over (II Kings 2:6-14). 

.....Do you see in this story why the response is given to the priest, "and with thy spirit," rather than "and also be with you?" "The spirit of Elijah" does not refer simply to his own spirit, but to the grace of the Holy Spirit giving supernatural gifts to his human spirit. A careful reading of II Kings shows that Elisha goes on to do exactly everything in his miraculous ministry double what Elijah had done. For example, Elijah brought one child back to life, and Elisha brought two people back to life (one by relics, when the dead body of a young man was restored to life as his body touched Elisha's bones). Elisha did greater works than Elijah, that is, greater in number. 
.....When we consider the Ascension, we must pay attention to the emphasis given by these scriptures to the coming of the Holy Spirit, so that the Apostolic Church would continue the ministry of Christ as an extension of his incarnation in the fallen world.

.....Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both inJerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1:8-11). 

.....Just as the prophet or prophets who wrote the Books of the Kings made points when writing about the foreshadowing, St. Luke has written these same points into his account of the fulfillment. Jesus tells them that they will receive power after the Holy Spirit will come upon them. They beheld him as he went up, just as Elisha beheld Elijah; or rather, Elisha had to look upon Elijah so that the scripture could foreshadow the fulfillment by Christ. With their eyes on his translation into that hidden dimension that surrounds us, called Heaven, the disciples beheld Christ as he is in spirit......That is, the incarnate Son of the Living God, a sight known as given only by the Holy Spirit. They saw the man who is the firstborn, which means rightful heir, owning all of creation. They saw that his proper place is not in the fallen world, but at the Father's right hand. They looked as the cloud took him out of their sight, presumably the cloud of witnesses who rose with him, as he led captivity captive. The disciples met to pray for ten days until he "gave gifts to men," dividing the spoil with the strong- made strong because they receive the power (δύναμις) of the Holy Spirit.1      
We have been led to think of the Ascension as Christ's coronation. This is not the emphasis of the scriptures, because the New Testament places more of that significance to the day in which he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, when the Father will put every enemy under his feet. These scriptures we have read are concerned, rather, with the continuation of Christ's own charismatic (χάρις) ministry through His Church, to spread the Gospel to all nations in the working out of salvation among all peoples of the earth.2           
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father (John 14:12)."       
 
Elisha saw Elijah, and did a greater number of works, double the number in fact. The Apostles saw Christ as he was taken out of their sight by the cloud, and the Church does greater works, because it is in many places where the Holy Spirit uses many hands to continue the works of Jesus Christ. The emphasis on the Ascension that we receive in the Scriptures is expressed by Saint Paul.
 

But all these (charisms) worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many...Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret (I Corinthians 12:11-14, 27-30)? 

Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:8-13).

.....These lists of gifts are different, along with yet other lists different still. What we see in these words of St. Paul, and what is taught clearly in the Book of Acts, is the dependence of the Apostolic Church on the Holy Spirit, for grace and power, to be Alter Christus to the world, just as the apostolic ministry of men in Holy Orders stands as Alter Christus to the Body of Christ.3   

.....When I say "the Apostolic Church," I do not mean to speak in any way whatsoever of an era, the times of the Apostles. No. We are the ApostolicChurch, as we learn from the Creeds, and the witness of the Fathers. The same Holy Spirit that was poured out on the day of Pentecost remains with us- if we dare to believe it. And, the Holy Spirit, after two thousand years of granting charismatic (χάρις) power (δύναμις) to the Body of Christ has never grown old or weary. Christ is seated at the Father's right hand, and he is very active through us in the fallen world where the people of every nation need to hear that testimony proclaimed that we have received from the witnesses of his resurrection. 

The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:17-23).

.....As we shall see on the next two Sundays, Christ has entered into the Heavens (a dimension hidden to us for now) to be seated at the right hand of God that “the Other παράκλητος (paraklētos)” would come.4 The Church as the Body of Christ is quickened and empowered to continue the work of the Incarnate Word, proclaiming Jesus to be both Lord and Christ.5



Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A source of moral confusion


A deadly dichotomy: Separating God's will from God's commandments

A very unfortunate doctrinal development that is popular among many modern Christians has a direct effect first on all moral reasoning. Somewhere, perhaps in the Middle Ages (or so I would argue), a tendency entered into the thinking of the Church, especially in the West, to emphasize, among the revealed attributes of God, will and power above love. The result on eschatological reasoning has been to make a clear separation between matters having to do with “God’s plan” – so to speak -from serious theological principles, especially anything to do with the unchanging nature of God. As people collect various ideas about fulfillment of predictive prophecy, pulling facts from history just a little here and there, or from current events (with heavy speculation about seemingly inevitable future developments), they create an entire system of biblical interpretation and doctrine in which unchanging and eternal principles of theology have no place. And, before you might dismiss this as a problem that exists only among the lesser educated masses, the fact is that it can be found just as readily in the strongholds of ecclesiastical academe.
          Closely related, and rooted in the same emphasis of divine will and power over divine love, is the dichotomy that such a doctrinal emphasis creates between the will of God and the commandments of God. This can be traced back through many centuries. It must be seen clearly for what it is: It is a destructive problem that often corrupts the minds of Christians, about God and about all matters of ethics and morality. It is thoroughly interwoven into many systems of theology that have achieved the utmost respectability. Let us see, for example how it distorts basic truths of the Gospel itself.
          
Can it be denied that Jesus, in all four of the Gospel books, sees His death on the cross as the will of God? Can it be denied that He quite willingly pursues that very death because it is His Father’s will? Indeed, He does. The cross for him, in his human nature, is the crowning act of obedience to God (Phil. 2 :1-11). And, in His divine nature, it is no less his own will as the Logos and only begotten Son of the Father (due to divine love, Gal.2:20).
          Right at this point, however, we come to a crossroads (no pun intended). One of two interpretations must govern how we understand the cross, and thereby how we understand the will of God, and thereby how we think of God, and thereby how we understand every moral and ethical question. Also, at this point we must get the answer right, or else we can never attain to the highest of all virtues, charity (I Cor. 13:13). We simply cannot afford to misinterpret this.
          The famous “Love Chapter,” that thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, speaks of the ultimate good to which we are called, the highest virtue we are meant to acquire. It clearly teaches that growth into perfect love, the love of God that only the Holy Spirit can create and nurture within the human heart, is, for each disciple of Jesus, the revealed will of God. In order to learn this we have to see that the will of God is always made known to us in His commandments. We must face this simple sentence for all that it means: “[Love] does not rejoice in injustice, but rejoices with the truth (v.6).” In terms of consistent theological principle, and what has been revealed to be the unchanging nature of God as himself the revealed abiding reality of that love (“God is love” I John 4:8, 16), we have to be clear in our thinking as to what this means concerning the details of the crucifixion of our Lord. In what way were the betrayal of Judas, the false condemnation by the Sanhedrin, the brutality of the Roman soldiers, and all of the human sins committed to bring about the cruel death of Jesus Christ, the will of God?
          “For in truth both Herod and Pilate, along with the gentiles and peoples of Israel, conspired in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do what your hand and your counsel designated should happen in advance…(Acts 26:27, 28).” That echoes the words of the patriarch Joseph, concerning the callous sin of his own brothers who had sold him many years earlier into slavery in Egypt: “And Joseph said unto them, ‘Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones.’ And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them (Gen. 50:19, 20 KJV).”
          In both the crucifixion of Christ, with its details of grievous sins, and in the sin of Joseph’s brothers, we come across God accomplishing his will through the evil acts of men. If we take this to mean that God predestined each of those human sins to be perpetrated, that is that those sins were the will of God, and that the men who committed them had no free will to choose otherwise, then we must live with a dichotomy between God’s will and God’s commandments.  That dichotomy is rooted in placing divine will and power over divine love. A belief system that contains that dichotomy has produced many tragic results because it cannot fail to create seriously flawed ethical and moral reasoning, rooted in a distorted mental image of God that denies His impassibility and the consistency of divine simplicity. Such a view cannot contribute to a saintly life, for divine love has to be removed or greatly relegated to make way for some sort of supposedly higher considerations within a complex and even varied divine nature, one inconsistent with the agape St. Paul had so eloquently described to the Church of Corinth.
          If that is the case, then what can we mean by saying that God is good? Can divine love have, within itself, hatred? Was St. Paul wrong? Does light indeed have fellowship with darkness? Did God’s “hand and counsel designate” such malicious sins themselves? In the eternal will of God, did Judas have to betray the Lord? Did the Sanhedrin have to perpetrate injustice to the point of judicial murder? Did the soldiers have to crown Jesus with thorns and mock him? Did the brothers of Joseph have to hate him, and sell him? The answer that many Christians have been taught to accept is yes. They take literally the words from Malachi: “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated (Mal.1:3).”  Although such language merely used a Semitic idiom to say that God chose Jacob and rejected Esau, I have come across those who interpret this in a thoroughly modern western emotional sense, ignoring the true meaning (and the theological issue of what Jacob was chosen for, that is, the place of Israel in the large Messianic theme of Salvation History, as any intelligent reading of Romans chapters nine through eleven makes clear, once one’s head is free of the baggage). For them God hated Esau, so he predestined him to go to hell, making sure he would never receive divine mercy and salvation. And, so too, for them the cross teaches both divine love and a distorted picture of what must be called, honestly, divine cruelty – at best divine indifference.
          So, if we accept this doctrinal paradigm, light must have fellowship with darkness, hatred fellowship with love, and specific sins must actually be the outworking of God’s will. How can this completely distorted doctrine help but cause an image of a schizoid god divided within himself, preventing the believer from approaching any question of morality on the firm basis of consistent theological principle, and thus render the attainment of charity always beyond one’s reach? For, no one can rise to a higher moral level than what one worships as God. It is psychologically impossible.  
          However, what if the reality of what God’s eternal counsel and will determined was something other than, even excluding, the actual sins? Getting back to the question I posited above, “In what way were the betrayal of Judas, the false condemnation by the Sanhedrin, the cruelty of the Roman soldiers, etc., the Will of God?” The answer is, those sins were not at all the will of God. God has revealed his commandments in no uncertain terms, simply stated in the summary of the law to love God with one’s whole heart, mind and strength, and one’s neighbor as oneself. God’s will is revealed in those commandments, and anything contrary to them is not the will of God, never has been the will of God, and never can be the will of God.
          But God foresaw, and made use of, the outworking of history. God’s will was to save Israel and preserve them in the time of famine. So, when the brothers of Joseph did what was inevitable, foreseen by the God who knows all things, Providence produced what was good. In no way could their evil acts prevent the will of God; indeed, because He “enacts all things in accord with the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11),” even the most sinful acts have to result in bringing about the good purpose of Almighty God. It was never the will of God for Judas to betray Christ, nor for the Sanhedrin to falsely convict Him, nor for the Romans to go about their violent and murderous acts with such schadenfreude. But, as a master of Chess makes use of every move by his opponent, God works providentially.
          Now, it was the will of God for the Son to offer Himself willingly for the sins of the whole world. It was the will of God for Jesus to surrender himself as the obedient suffering servant. The inevitable evil of a world hostile to God and to all goodness was very much within the foresight of the Almighty. Carrying out his will, to do good, was not prevented by human evil; indeed, whatever evil men do, God has the almighty power, nonetheless, to turn it to good. Therefore, inasmuch as he cannot be defeated, even evil acts result in his will being accomplished. But, to believe that God must rob man of the freewill that is inherent in the creation of the human race (else, the “image of God” becomes meaningless), and therefore wills any sinful act as something divinely “predestined,” must cause all of the theological confusion, and therefore moral confusion, I have described above.
          You will not find the genuine revelation in revealed religion unless you reject such intricate, and therefore fragile, designs of the human mind – or worse. The fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah is often misquoted to give the impression that God’s will is an insolvable problem, as confusing as a physics formula on a chalkboard to the uninitiated. But the passage is not about the secret things; it is about those things that are revealed (Deut. 29:29). The details of that famous passage in the Book of Isaiah are overlooked; for what it states is that God’s ways and thoughts are too high for the wicked and unrighteous man; but they should be the ways and thoughts of each one of us because the thoughts and ways of God have come down to us like the rain and snow. God has made his will known. He has commanded you to love him and to love your neighbor. It is never God’s will for you to do otherwise.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Update on St. Benedict's Benevolence Fund

UPDATE

I want to thank everyone who has contributed to this. All of the money raised has been used for poor people in Durham, NC, simply for necessary items, mostly food and medicine. On Thursday May 2, at our Diocesan Synod, this was part of the annual parish report I prepared for St. Benedict's Anglican Church here in Chapel Hill, NC.

"Some of the new families have been very faithful to bring food for the food basket. I mention that because giving what we are able to give to the poor has become a feature of our life as a parish. This has caused me to look into the idea of a “Go Fund Me” campaign to help some of the poor who call the church because their very real emergency needs are not met by anyone else, and not by social programs. A few of us have gotten to know some of them, and their families. The “Go Fund Me” campaign adds to what I was trying to accomplish through a discretionary fund that did not stretch far enough. Most of the poverty seems to be in Durham more than in Chapel Hill. I believe this is part of our calling, and we need not be afraid to obey the clear commandments Jesus Christ gave us in the Sermon on the Mount...If I have anything to suggest for the benefit of other congregations, it is this: Do not be afraid to give and to love 'the least of these.' Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give.” I believe that between seeking to obey that command, and praying for God to give the increase, we are simply handing Him five loaves and two small fishes. And, that is when He places it back in our hands and says, 'Give ye them something to eat.'”

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

St. Benedict's Benevolence


https://www.gofundme.com/6vdptx-benevolence-fund

For poor families who call the church in need of immediate assistance. Regular calls include turn off notices for water bills and electric bills, or a need for food when a family has nothing to eat, or a need for medicine. This includes a woman with two teenage sons currently in a state of medical and financial crisis, who needs medicine she cannot afford, for which she is not covered by any insurance or program while her S.S.I. case is delayed in what has been a lengthy appeal process with no end in sight. I, the Rector, have a discretionary fund, but we are a small church and the money simply does not go far enough. This is about poor people who call churches because they fall through the cracks, or they are waiting for the process to be completed for Social Services or the Social Security Administration, but face turn-off notices, food shortage, and an immediate need for medicine. They need help NOW, not when the system finally (if ever) provides. When they call a church it is because they have already reached the end of their rope.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A study for Maundy Thursday B'rit Chadasha

Reposted from 2012

"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."
Jeremiah 31:31-34
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"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."
Matt. 26:26-29

"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That 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. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. 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 11:23-27

"Ante-argument" : Setting up the point
How can we build the first, second and third floors of doctrinal clarity without the foundation? If one thing has become clear from recent discussions about the sacrament of Holy Communion, it is that we have seem to have no proper regard for the actual Jewish context in which our Lord said the words, "Do this in remembrance of me." We have busied ourselves about the nature of Christ's presence in the sacrament, to an extent with Scripture and to an extent with mere philosophy and man-made definitions, while neglecting certain and obvious facts that were absolutely clear to the earliest Christians. Since the sixteenth century we have battled over Real Presence, Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation, breathing such extreme words as "heresy" when, in fact, no breach of doctrinal orthodoxy should be asserted, and when it cannot be proved. Indeed, such accusations often mean only that someone's religious taste has been offended.

That is not to say that details of sacramental theology do not matter, nor that we can deny, or should want to deny, that the Universal Church has always treated the Sacrament as having a supernatural and real connection to the Living Christ by which he gives himself to the Church as the food and drink of eternal life, and that this has given the Church every reason to speak of that grace in terms of his Presence among us, and to teach it as an objective fact, though shrouded in mystery. The consensus of the Universal Church has been to read the Scriptures in such a way as to find the presence of the risen Christ in the actual elements themselves. But, in the last several centuries our sacramental theology has become seriously unbalanced in the sense of "this ought ye to have done without leaving the other undone." So it is that one question remains: As glad as I am that we believe in the objective and Real presence of Christ, I must ask about the covenantal meaning of the Lord's Supper, Why is this missing from most of our talk about the sacrament?

As Hooker expressed, the exact moment of the service in which bread and wine may be said to undergo their change cannot be known, and neither can the exact manner of that change; and what matters for those who receive with faith is that they participate in Christ, that is, have communion with his Body and Blood, even if the consecration is not complete until they themselves fulfill part of what Christ commanded in the words "do this..." namely, his commands "Take eat...Drink this all of you." This is not to make room for treating the elements as Zwingli's bare or empty signs, an idea expressly rejected by all the Anglican teachers (including Cranmer). However, we must not forget, as we have seen before, that for the earliest Anglican teachers, the presence of Christ could not be separated in its truest significance, or in any practical way, from grace, which has everything to do with what he gives to each worthy receiver (i.e., made worthy by grace). If we believe that the words "This is my body...This is my blood..." are the only Words of Institution, we need to read the text again, and realize that those words come with words about receiving: "Take, eat...drink this all of you (as in our Prayer Book, "drink ye all of this") also in the Words of institution, placing Hooker's suggestion on firm ground. That is, what matters most about his presence in the sacrament is grace given by means of it.

Yet, the unworthy receiver "shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord," clearly showing that he violates that holy presence, because he does not have fellowship with Christ by faith. For, as we have seen also in previous essays, the words "participate," "partake," "fellowship" and "communion" (including I Cor. 10:16) all signify, wherever we find them in the English translations of the Bible, or the Book of Common Prayer with the Thirty-Nine Articles, or in the Homilies, that the Greek word koinōnia (κοινωνία) best expresses the intended meaning; for all these English words have been used to translate that one Greek word. The unworthy or wicked (Article XXIX) person who presumes to eat or drink has taken the holy elements that are mystically and really the body and blood of Christ, but he cannot partake of (have communion or fellowship with, or participate in) Christ, and therefore cannot be a partaker of the Divine nature (II Pet. 1:4).

(It is tragic that modern Anglicans cannot understand these things when they read Anglican sources; but, as I have argued and proved these points before, I will not dwell on them now; I will refer the reader to my essays on classic Anglicanism, especially those linked above. Suffice to say, the English Reformers, when read carefully and diligently, cannot be charged with any abandonment of the Catholic Tradition of the Universal Church. They restored great pieces of it long neglected.)

The point
But, why do we spend so much time having to prove these things? Is there not a significance to Holy Communion that we have missed in our debates about the unknowable? Is it because we have never accepted the idea of humility as Hooker expressed it, that we ought to admit our ignorance openly as to how the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, that we have argued so much over mysteries, that cannot be resolved, to the point of distraction from what is clearly written as a Biblical doctrine? That lost doctrine is the relationship between the Sacrament and the New Covenant.

Any reading of Genesis chapter fifteen in light of St. Paul's teaching about the faith of our father Abraham (yes, Christians everywhere, our father, if we believe), especially in his Epistle to the Church in Rome, and in light of what the Epistle to the Hebrews says so clearly about the shedding of blood as it relates to any covenant, shows that God took upon himself the penalty of human sin. He passed between the pieces of the sacrificed animals as Abraham had laid them out, meaning that God chose to accept the penalty if the covenant were to be broken, even though his covenant with all mankind had been broken already. The full weight of this cannot be appreciated unless we consider the words of Jesus as he held that cup in his hands: "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."

When the New Testament was written, the Greek word that most closely held the same meaning as the word b'rit (בְּרִית) which we translate as covenant, was the word diathēkē (διαθήκη) which we translate as testament. Modern people think of a covenant as merely an agreement or contract; but, like a Last Will and Testament, it requires death.

"And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission (Hebrews 9:15-22)."

What we find is that they chose the word we use for testament, because they saw that it had this connection with the meaning of covenant: It required death. We see in the opening quotation from Jeremiah that the people of Israel broke the covenant, and we must then think in terms of that fifteenth chapter of Genesis and the presence of God walking between the divided body parts of the dead animals. When the Lord said, "this cup is the new covenant/testament in my blood" the disciples thought of Jeremiah's words, foretelling that God would make a new covenant. That covenant has a list of blessings:
1. The law is written in our hearts
2. God himself is our God (i.e. the true God protects us and provides our every need)
3. We know God
4. Our sins are forgiven and forgotten.

How is this possible? Only through the sacrifice of Christ, and the shedding of his blood. We broke the covenant God made with all mankind many times over. He made it with all people in creation. He made it with Abraham whose faith was credited to him for righteousness. He made it with his chosen and elect people, among whom are counted all Christians as those grafted into the people of Israel, children of Abraham by faith. On that night he made it with us anew, and to establish it he bore the full weight of death, that the New Covenant is his Testament. Our inheritance includes those benefits listed above, as Jeremiah foretold. It includes, as a necessary part of knowing God, eternal life (John 17:3), for God is eternal.

This is why when we "do this" in remembrance of Him, it is the sacrifice re-presented, in that we "show forth the Lord's death," each time we "do this," and will do so "till he come." This is not the double plural "sacrifices of masses." It is the Eucharistic sacrifice. It is the covenant meal that includes the sacrificial thanksgiving or Eucharist (literally good grace, or good thanksgiving). This is why our Canon of Consecration opens: "All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world." This sets the stage for all that follows.

The covenantal meaning has everything to do with why St. Paul says so clearly, "the night in which he was betrayed." He was telling the Corinthian Christians that their evil behavior was like the betrayal of Judas, their mistreatment of their fellow Christians, brothers and sisters, a breaking of the covenant that existed between themselves and God, and therefore between themselves and each other. "I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. 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 Cor. 10:15-17)." 

That communion, or fellowship (koinōnia, κοινωνία) with the Body and Blood of Christ is communion with one another in the Church, which is also called by the same name, "the Body of Christ" (I Corinthians 12). The unworthy or wicked person who presumes to eat and drink is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, in terms of the whole ancient understanding of what a covenant means. In the context of St. Paul's warning, in that eleventh chapter, the unworthy or wicked person is known by how he mistreats his brothers and sisters, those also in the communion of Christ's Body, those also in the covenant.