Wednesday, July 17, 2019

EMERGENCY UPDATE




I know it has been less than a week since my last update, but this is an emergency. Jill, who has already lost one leg to blood clots, has a new blood clot discovered yesterday. She can purchase necessary medicine at a very reduced price of $55.00. But, with no income, awaiting the appeal of her S.S.I. to come through, even that is more than she can come up with. She also needs one tire, because the wire is exposed on the left rear tire of her old car (I saw it yesterday). I have already provided other emergency needs, for her and a few others in poverty, to such an extent that I cannot come up with the money for this need quickly enough either. If you have kept up with these updates you will recognize Jill’s name as that of the mother of two who suffers from a dangerous thyroid condition, and whose brothers died from the same condition at the age she is currently. (Additional note: I baptized Jill on Sunday, July 7, just a week and a half ago, at St. Benedict’s Church).


Friday, July 12, 2019

UPDATE


I received an urgent call two days ago from disabled, one-legged, mother of two dependants, deserted and abandoned by her husband, Jill. Yes, the same disabled woman with the thyroid condition (I had just baptized her this past Sunday at our 10:00 Mass). She had not eaten in 24 hours. The Durham office of Social Services had cut off her food stamps. They admitted it was their error, but they told her that they just cannot get it fixed in less than thirty days. They have no means of dealing with emergencies (they never have). Thanks to those of you who contributed recently, her family, and others, had food and necessary medicine this week, as well as other emergency needs being met.
CLICK HERE.

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, June 28, 2019

UPDATE JUNE 28



This past week I used this campaign (which has raised in that time $85.) to pay part of what I gave to the family of the woman I called, in an earlier update, an “abandonment widow,” Jill. Mostly it was for medicine. She has no coverage while waiting for, what has already been, a long drawn-out appeal process for S.S.I. The fact that she has only one leg is only part of her problem; her main disability is her thyroid condition. She has reached the same age as her two older brothers who died of the same condition because they were unable to keep up with their medication. I also helped the family by buying her son’s insulin, having become ineligible for Medicaid by having reached the age of 18. Both of these medications come to them at a greatly reduced price of $65.00 for the Thyroid medicine and $80.00 for the insulin (as you see, amounting to more than was raised by this campaign). Until the situation improves this family’s only income is Food Stamps at about $150.00 a month. Other expenses are, obviously, a regular part of their lives, as well as with other people with emergency needs due to poverty. PLEASE GIVE FOR THE POOR.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Faith and Scholarship


Serving in my diocese’s Commission on Ministry, I meet men who aspire to holy orders. When I consider the importance of one aspect of ordained ministry, preaching, I find myself always ready to give practical advice. One thing I would never say from the pulpit is, “scholars say that Jesus didn’t actually say this,” or even, “scholars agree that Paul didn’t actually write this epistle,” (with the obvious exception of Hebrews, inasmuch as the epistle is, on the face of it, anonymous. Paul always identified himself up front. I think it contains Paul’s teaching, but was written by someone who had been in his missionary company before his martyrdom in Rome).
This is not because I have failed to read the arguments; it is mostly because nothing deflates a sermon faster than distancing oneself from the source of authority that undergirds your very presence in the pulpit. But, it is also because, having read the arguments and knowing the consensus (a word that has come to imply, to many, infallibility), I see holes that are not neatly sewn up. I appreciate the consistent logic that has been built into a tower; but, at times, I see what appear to be cracks in the foundation. The tower is a very impressive edifice, and the workmanship is unquestionably fine. But, what is below ground as a foundation?

Facts and logical constructs
            Even in my earliest days as an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in history, I was taught that my discipline was a science. It was impressed on me by professors that nothing takes the place of evidence and documentation. As the years went on I began to see that a lot of writing about history (as opposed to writing of history) argues a point. In every science those who make arguments need to practice detachment, especially detachment from ego, inasmuch as “facts are,” as John Adams observed, “stubborn things.”
          A subtle trap lies in this: In every science a certain amount of logic must be used to construct any theory. In reality theory is a word that includes basic things we know to be true, such as gravity. A true theory is proved by the facts, even though it can undergo additional elements, which indeed happened to our understanding of gravity when Einstein examined the work of Newton in light of Relativity, adding to the theory of gravity what we now know about the way it bends both time and space. So, a proven theory can grow to include newly discovered facts.
Some theories, on the other hand, can be proved false. That happens when logic, even flawless logic, is confronted by a fact that stands as a contradiction to some part of the premise upon which a theory was constructed. In other cases a theory can be on the table, based on a combination of evidence and logic, depending on logic to cover gaps that the evidence alone cannot prove. Indeed, such theories can be so impressive in their logic that they are quite convincing. This dependence on logic, to fill in the evidentiary gaps, helps to create consensus (and the same basic reality, in a very different way, applies to juries in courts of law).
The problem that I am faced with by some of the scholarly consensus on the Bible is not only gaps in the evidence, but arguments that can be made, and made quite plausibly, not with the logical construct of a given theory, but with the premise. This brings me full circle to the very basic History 101 caveat, that everything presented as a fact must be documented with evidence. The evidence comes first, and the logic follows, for logic is subject to facts; facts, those stubborn things, refuse to be subjected to logic, even the best logic of the finest scholars and scientists. When one moves up the academic ladder in any science, no matter to what height, the rule remains in place, reputations not withstanding, that facts come first, and logic follows. So, a theory that is yet unproved (and a collegial consensus all by itself is no substitute for proof), is constructed partly by evidence and partly by logic.

Predictive prophecy
          When I first read the original Book of Daniel I was struck quickly by the fact that I was reading not Hebrew, but Aramaic, but not throughout the entire book. Many ancient manuscripts come to us in fragments. Here was a book put together, I realized, from Hebrew fragments and Aramaic fragments. I questioned what had happened. Was a Targum of Daniel, that is an Aramaic translation from Hebrew for Jewish readers of a later period, mixed with older Hebrew portions? Of course, many writers have weighed in.
We are told that the scholarly consensus is that the predictive prophetic portions were added after they had been fulfilled. Of course the text states otherwise rather boldly, that Daniel was praying and was visited by angels. In the science of textual criticism a simple acceptance of the claims in the text are not taken as evidence. That I understand, because that is how real science is done. The problem is a different question altogether. The question is, did prophets foretell?
According to the content of scripture, throughout all of it, one element of prophecy was prediction. Bear in mind; that was only a part of it. Prophecy is when one speaks as the mouth of God, and most of the words of the Old Testament prophets were not predictive in nature, but rather an outcry against evil and injustice, mostly against injustice to the poor and the oppressed. However, the predictive element is so obviously and consistently woven into Biblical prophecy that no one can state that prediction of the future is no part of it. To say that Biblical prophets did not foretell is ridiculous on the face of it. Actually, nothing can be more obvious. According to the words in the texts, predictions as an element of prophecy take place quite often. No matter where you look in the Old Testament, this is an undeniable fact.
When we come to the New testament we see exactly two prophetic predictions in the Book of Acts, both from a Christian prophet, obviously recognized as such by the Church, named Agabus (Acts 11:28f, 21:10f). In the eleventh chapter this prophet foretold a drought. The Church had such faith in the predictive element of prophecy that the apostles themselves took action, and so we read in the Book of Acts, and in St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, about the “collection for the saints,” the money donated for the yet-to-be poor in the city where the Church was first established, Jerusalem.
Clearly, to those earliest Christians, it was no strange thing for prophets to tell the future. They had inherited this belief from their Jewish past, for it was a part of Jewish faith. Moreover, had they failed to heed the predictive element of prophecy, they would have not taken the actions needed to prepare for the future. Such a course of action must have brought to mind the story, already ancient in that time, of Joseph and Pharaoh in Genesis. Note, the prophecies of Agabus had nothing to do with revelation about matters of doctrine, such matters having been entrusted, according to the text, to the apostles rather than to the prophets of the Church. What is crystal clear is that the predictive element in prophecy was here, as in all of scripture, taken for granted by the believers. Had you told the ancient Christians that prophets did not predict the future, they would have regarded you as uneducated and foolish.
Herein lies the problem I have with one scholarly consensus, the cracks I see in the foundation of an otherwise impressively constructed tower of logic. The rationalization of some is that the Gospel of Mark, chapter thirteen, had to have been written after the year 70 AD. Maybe it was written that late. The real issue to me is a simple nagging question: Why must it have been written after 70 AD? One answer, we are told, is because it foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple.
In other words, contrary to what all of the Christians and Jews of the time had always believed, that the word of the Lord by the prophets often contained a reliable predictive element, we are to assume that Jesus could not really have predicted the future. The simple reality is this: that assumption has demoted Jesus not only to a mere man, someone who was not the Son of the Everlasting Father, but to someone even less than what all the prophets had been taken to be: the mouthpiece of God who knows all things, past, present and future. Aside from the assumption that Jesus could not have actually predicted the future, I accept reasonable evidence that has been presented for dating the synoptic Gospels as late. 
I think it must be true that the Church had a Quelle (“source” in German) document, or “Q,” simply because it makes no sense to believe that the Church would have failed to put into writing the most important words ever spoken. The Church’s resources were never limited to complete dependence on nothing other than an oral tradition because it was never populated only by illiterates. That Mark and Matthew drew from this “Q,” and that Luke drew from it and other sources when addressing each of us as a “friend of God (Theophilus),” is indeed quite logical, indeed, obvious. We do not have the “Q,” but we do have the Gospels. In fact, in the seventh chapter of First Corinthians, Paul makes a distinction between the teaching of the Lord, and his own merely human but likely reliable judgment; the implication is that Christ’s teaching had been preserved faithfully, and that his readers knew what was in it
If you take away Jesus’ clear foretelling of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple, you have to take away so much with it, the Parable of the Vineyard, the warning that the Kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to the Gentiles (spread to all nations), His use of the imagery of the Valley of Ben Hinnom (Gehennah)  – the place where slain corpses are abandoned – and everything he foretold about the judgment to fall on “this generation.” Finally, when you come to the end of the Gospel of Luke, and read about the Risen Christ teaching His disciples about the Old Testament scriptures that had predicted the events of His life, His death and His resurrection, you have to assume that those ancient martyrs and fugitives, all of whom could have lived freely and without fear by simply coming clean and being honest, made up a bunch of tales not to be believed at all.
Right away, in the Book of Acts, we discover that the apostles relied on specific texts of Old Testament prophecy, in fact predictive prophecies, to prove that their man was the promised Anointed Son of David who had risen from the dead. The passage most often used in the Book of Acts, and that is either quoted or alluded to by most of the writers of the New Testament, is the Suffering Servant of the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). This is brought home most clearly in the eighth chapter of Acts when Philip identifies the man of whom the prophet spoke as Jesus (Acts 8:35). When did the Church learn this, if not when the risen Lord was instructing the disciples as we read about near the end of Luke’s Gospel?

Human element
          Unlike a Fundamentalist I recognize the human element in scripture. Matthew wrongly attributed a passage from Zechariah to Jeremiah, and Luke mistakenly names Quirinius as the Governor of Syria at an incorrect date. The Scriptures contain variants, and it is not always clear which of them is correct. No modern person should take the earliest chapters of Genesis as either science or history, but as allegory (after all, the incarnate Christ taught in parables when he walked the earth – so what’s the problem?). The greetings in the epistles, Paul’s expression of aggravation concerning those who troubled the Church in Galatia – yes, Fundamentalism insults the intelligence.
          But, the human element contains a very real weakness in St. Paul’s writings, in fact his dictations. Early epistles, the ones everybody attributes to Paul, show that his amanuensis probably found it very difficult to keep up with his excited dictation. The amanuensis who took those epistles down did not tidy it up like a good editor would, not even completing every sentence. Yet, the Epistle to the Ephesians is polished and stylistically different, and the later Pastoral Epistles so different that the scholarly consensus is that Paul could not have written them. Furthermore, those epistles, unlike the earlier ones, show a church that is formed and organized instead of organic and purely charismatic, if not egalitarian.
          Fair enough. I will say that in about another seventeen hundred years a music scholar may well say that the works attributed to J.S. Bach must have been written by no less than three separate composers, and for very similar reasons. Obviously, and worthy of an agreed consensus, the same man who composed the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, so much resembling the works of Buxtehude with its triple ending and very informal cadence to a minor resolution, cannot have been the man who wrote those later contrapuntal works, and someone else altogether must have written those concertos in various different ethnic styles. However, a mere three hundred years after the life of the composer, we know too much to make such astounding claims. A lot more has to be lost, and much history forgotten, before we can become so clever as all that.
          As for Paul’s epistles, and those attributed to him (from Romans to Philemon – Hebrews remaining anonymous and obviously written by a man who followed the lead of St. Timothy, as Paul never did), I make no arguments. Rather, I question why a pseudonymous writer would wax so autobiographical and personal as we see in the last chapter of the Second Epistle to Timothy. But that is a question, not an argument. I have another question, knowing that Paul signed his epistles, always near the beginning, and in large letters (Gal. 6:11), could not differences in style and polish be differences between the men who acted as his amanuensis? Could not the more organizational content, ecclesiastically speaking, of the Pastoral Epistles reflect the growth and maturity of the Church as it evolved over time? These are questions, not arguments, and I am not the first to raise them. I might be the first, however, to desire an answer more evidentiary in nature than “consensus,” which, in the final analysis, is no answer at all, that is, unless this is all an art, not a science.
          One answer I cannot accept is that we must reject the supernatural explanation. The assumption that Jesus could not have foretold the events of 70 AD, because we assume that prophecy has no predictive element, not only lacks evidence: It contradicts all of the evidence of the entire Bible and the of the world in which it was written and compiled. Moreover, it comes across to me as nothing but a mask for unbelief. What else could He not have done? What about having been born of a virgin mother? and what of rising from the dead into a new and immortal nature to save us? If he could not speak as the prophets were believed to have spoken, certainly He could not have done any of those other supernatural things either. But, in fact, He did it all. And, that is in accord with the consensus that matters most: The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church guided, by the Spirit of Truth, into all truth.

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.'”