Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sixth Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle. Rom. vi. 3 f
The Gospel. St. Matt. v. 20 f

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

A few years ago in Phoenix, while smoking cigars and drinking bourbon with some other priests, and a few laity to whom we deliberately gave so bad an example by this smoking and drinking- for their own good of course- a profound thought presented itself to me. This was in the course of joining with one of those other priests in answering questions. A young couple, expecting their first child, ignored our scandalous drinking and smoking in order to learn from our collective wisdom. At this point one priest waxed eloquent, and spoke of one practice of the ancient Church, as recorded by St. Justin Martyr, of baptizing converts who shed their outer clothes to enter the water, and clothing them in new vestments afterward. The old clothes were burned, as the old life was left behind, and a new life began.
And, I suddenly began thinking, at this point, about that rather strange question at the beginning of our Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer (almost identical with the first Office of Instruction). The question does not sound at all religious, and has no hint in it of theology, no sense of inspiration. It is rather mundane, almost enough to make one wonder if what follows can be at all interesting. The question is “What is your Name?” The first question and answer run as follows:

“QUESTION. What is your Name?"
Answer. (first name, or first and middle names)

"Question. Who gave you this Name?
Answer. My Sponsors in Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.”

Suddenly, the question of your name, or the question “Who are you?” becomes very theological, very religious, and quite inspirational. My name is Robert. I was given this name by my sponsors in Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, born again in water and the Spirit as a child of God, and made an inheritor of His Kingdom.
But, wait. Did not my parents give me that name a little earlier? The old Maryland Birth Certificates, photocopied in negative in the 1950s, were clear enough to reveal that my name was given more than a full month before I was baptized. But, to the Church I was dead until I was baptized, dead in sin. “In sin my mother conceived me” as a son of the fallen race called Adam. In baptism I was born again of water and the Spirit, because I was baptized into Christ’s death, buried with Him in baptism, and made alive again in the new life of His resurrection. Until then I had no name, because until then I was not alive. Who are you? In baptism you became a member of Christ. In Baptism you became the child of God. In baptism you became an inheritor of the Kingdom of heaven. Who are you then? Simply put, who you are is, you are In Christ. That is your identity.

The great movie, Life with Father starring William Powell, was a magnificent satire, even though a true story, of religious ignorance. A well to do New York, New York family of sincere people in the Episcopal Church of the late Nineteenth Century discover that the head of the family, Clarence Daye, has never been baptized even though he has been calling himself an Episcopalian for decades. In one scene he says, “I will be a Christian, and I won’t be baptized. I’ll be a Christian in my own way!” We hear thunder and see lightening- a touch of humor that might be lost on an audience today. In the end he is pressured, thanks be to God, to be baptized. Amidst all the humor, the movie makes a serious point. We cannot be Christians our own way. We must be born again of water and the Spirit in order to leave the life of sin and death, and enter into Christ and His life.
And, we cannot live our own way as Christians either. We must die to sin in every practical way, because with this new identity of being in Christ we have no room for a life of sin. Our identity as In Christ becomes very practical at this point. Because of who we are, we have no time for those dead things which many people feel so proud of, or to which they are enslaved. In Christ; that is the answer to the question Who are you? What is your name? Our somewhat new practice of issuing Birth Certificates began as a secular equivalent to Baptism Certificates, the original records of identity as kept by the Parish churches. In its wisdom the Church gave you your name, your identity, on the day you came to life in Christ. Being baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, you received a name as you received life. Until then you had no name because you were not yet a child of God. Who are you? Having been born again of water and of the Spirit, you are In Christ.
All of today’s scriptures remind us that we have entered into the New Covenant in Christ, and that the Law of God has been written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. At this time the new trendy error being taught in the Episcopal Church is the very opposite lesson from what Saint Paul taught us in the Epistle to the Romans. We need to understand how serious the issues really are. If we had separated from them simply over the language of the Prayer Book, we would be guilty of further dividing the Church militant in its polity and relations, not to mention, we would be very petty. The separation is over principles concerning which we obey our consciences; it is over matters of eternal significance. We are not in communion with the modern Episcopal Church; and this is because of substantive theological and moral issues.
And, nothing demonstrates the depth of their unfaithfulness more than their corruption of everything that baptism means. In 2003, when one of their bishops (a friendly man for whom I feel sorrow) was asked why he had voted in favor of consecrating the scandalously divorced and openly “gay” Gene Robinson to the episcopate, he answered that he had finally decided to vote "yes" based on the meaning of baptism. He meant that he could not take into account the fact of the man’s notorious immorality, because baptism somehow made it okay. I’m okay, you’re okay, and all that. In General Convention, their new Presiding Bishopette spoke about their new “radical commitment to the baptismal covenant.” In other words, the new heresy of the moment is that we wink at every kind of immoral life style, and accept everybody’s sinful practices, because of our common bond in baptism.
The Epistle we have read today is from Chapter six of Romans, and opens with these words: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Then Saint Paul goes on to teach us that by baptism we have died to sin, that we have been made one with Christ in His death, buried in the waters of baptism, and risen to walk in the New Life of His resurrection. Here the words of Jesus Christ from the Gospel are given their context for our lives: “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” We are not to live in sin, but to consider ourselves dead to it. The lesson is not to accept every life style; we must not tolerate sin in our own lives, and we must help each other to become holy. That is the true essence of the highest of all virtues, namely charity, that love that comes from the Holy Spirit. The sacrament of baptism does not give us license to sin; rather the opposite is true. We are supposed to consider ourselves dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Who are you? You are in Christ, and, like it or not, you are called to become a saint.
Frankly, I am better at understanding sin than understanding saintliness. Saintly virtues are beyond me; I have to read, study and pray. One thing I do not need, and that nobody needs, is the example of clergy who openly practice immorality before the whole world, and who teach that we should continue in sin that grace may abound, because of their new “radical commitment to the baptismal covenant.” Who needs them? I already know all about sin, because I am in the same fight that the rest of you are in. But, the issue here is that we see it as a fight. I need an example of the effort to be holy in every area of life. I need such challenging examples, because I am bent in a sinful direction as it is- just like the rest of you. I don’t need to be encouraged to drink the sea-water in an effort to find satisfaction. And, I am troubled that children and young people are learning, in the name of some bland thing called “tolerance,” the art of making excuses to live carelessly, and to be dominated by those very forces, the World, the Flesh and the Devil, that the Christian is called to overcome by the grace of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The separation between orthodox Anglicans, and the new version of the Episcopal religion that has been invented over the last thirty to forty years, is no less than a difference between whether you believe we are baptized into Christ’s death so that we may walk in His resurrection Life, or whether you believe baptism simply gives you a license to give in to the World, the Flesh and the Devil. A church that teaches us to overcome everything- except temptation, and to rise to anything- except an occasion, is not the Church of Jesus Christ. He gave His apostolic representatives the power to forgive sins, not to approve them. None of us lives without the need for forgiveness. But, there is a big difference between seeking forgiveness and seeking approval, just as there is a difference between seeking grace to overcome, and surrendering without a fight.
"Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.” Ah, but it can! The Lord looks, as Isaiah has told us, to the one who is “of a humble and contrite spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” The grace of humility leads us to confession and repentance, unlike the Pharisees who justified themselves. Also, it leads us to be grateful that we are in Christ, and that grace is given to us to live in the power of His resurrection. And, it in the spirit of the contrite and humble believer, we are given eyes to see that our whole identity is in Christ, without whom we cannot hope to please God, but in whom we are loved as dear children.


Canon Tallis said...

As one who came to know and believe in the Christianity of the English Reformation and the traditional, orthodox Books of Common Prayer through playing the priest in my high school's production of Life With Father, I am especially moved my this sermon. I never saw the movie, but in the play the mother had taken to her bed and was dying because she discovered that her husband was not baptized and therefore was not in her eyes a Christian.

The local paper contains a letter from an Episcopal deacon who bemoans the fact that TEO has been cast as the 'bad guy' when they are just trying to follow the 'way of Jesus.' Somehow all of our Lord's admonitions to 'go and sin no more' seem to have escaped him as well as all of the other things found in the New Testament and the Old which they are also ignoring if not flouting. They just don't seem capable of understanding that there is only one way of being truly Christian and that is do things not in the Church's way but in the Way in which God has given us in the fullness of Holy Scripture.

Father finally got it because he loved his wife and did not want to lose her. He would do for her what he was incapable of doing for himself. I am very thankful that my high school drama coach believed that I was perfect for the role of the priest. It changed my life and is still changing it.

Sandra McColl said...

You mean there's a play out there, and a film made of it, about the struggle to get a man baptized? Must check it out.

I recently subscribed to a local theatre company for a few years with a friend, and often by the interval in a contemporary play, we'd be looking at each other and saying, 'Another parable of life without God.' One of the reasons I gave up subscribing was that I found that amongst the classics were too many plays that reflected a view of contemporary life from which I felt quite alienated.

RSC+ said...

Based on the conversations I've had from many Episcopal clergy, I think this radical view of baptism comes from a heavy influence of Liberal Protestantism (their label, not mine) and a particular, almost anti-nomian strand of German Reformed and/or Lutheran theology.

My understanding of Lutheranism is very limited, but from what I've been taught, there isn't a system of sanctification in Lutheranism as there is in Calvinist or Anglican theology. There's Justification, period. One is either Justified, and thus saved, or not. Good works flow from it, but there's a great deal of emphasis in what I've read on the notion of iustus et peccator. Some take it so far as to mean, more or less, that Baptism and Justification entitle one to go do the hamartiological equivalent of playing naked in the rain because, by God, we're Justified. So, sin boldly! Now, Luther would be horrified by that strand of the theological tradition that bears his name, I'm sure, but it follows toward a logical conclusion. I imagine someone here knows Lutheranism and Reformed theology better than I do. Please tell me that this anti-nomian conclusion that I see all over the place is based on some sort of logical fallacy. :>

poetreader said...

As a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I grew up amid a lot of loud noise about "sola fide", and a lot of ascription of "works righteousness" to those insisting on a strict moral standard -- but hold on -- those accusations were directed at those who had a different moral standard from the speaker. Missouri Synod Lutherans of that period disallowed such things as ballroom dancing (square dancing being OK) life insurance (though Lutheran cooperative societies performed precisely the same function) and membership in secret societies. Yet those who disapproved alcoholic beverages were considered legalistic. It simply wasn't consistent -- and that is what saved it from being heresy. Heresies pretty generally come from applying a rigid logical standard to the full extent it can go, thus pushing doctrine far away from the golden mean of truth Real orthodoxy uses logic as a tool, but cheerfully recognizes that it isn't always the proper tool.
A fully logical extrapolation of Luther's own principles leads to horrendous false teaching, as does a fully logical extrapolation of Calvin's, or of any of the Catholic writers who appear to have opposing viewpoints. This is why a truly Catholic view does not hearken back to a single authority, but to "the Fathers". In short, I am thankful that my Lutheran teachers were less than entirely logical in applying their theology. Because of that I ended up with a reasonably balanced foundation in spite of the tendency to go off into extremes.


RC Cola said...

This line...

A church that teaches us to overcome everything- except temptation, and to rise to anything- except an occasion, is not the Church of Jesus Christ. a classic! And I will use it (giving credit due to the author, of course).

Bruce said...

It's "simul justus et peccator." Fr Hart's Touchstone colleague S.M. Hutchens had a nice article a while back that was useful for me.

I don't think Luther's teaching had to lead to antinomianism. I think his point was that Christ's teaching points to the fact that we're so sinful we don't even always know when we sin and our sin certainly goes beyond not following the letter of the law. Isn't this the point of the law and Gospel distinction?

Luther flogged himself, and when he thought he was done, he'd always think of a new sin and end up mortifying himself more.

Can anyone tell me (authoritatively) whether or not artificial contraception is a sin? If memory serves (possibly it doesn't-sorry if I get this wrong) Fr. Hart and his bishop had differing opinions. His Bishop merely said it was HIS opinion. But who decides? The Pope for Roman Catholics. The answers I got here seemed academic but not practially useful (or authoritative). Doesn't his relate to Luther's point?

poetreader said...

I've been asked to develop some of the things I've said before in reference to your question, and will be attempting to do so in the next day or so. Your question"

Can anyone tell me (authoritatively) whether or not artificial contraception is a sin?

raises several rather thorny issues. Is it fitting for Christians to do it? Is it an actual sin? How grave a sin? Has it been declared so by ecclesiastical authority? Can it be? What does the informed Christian conscience have to say about such issues?

I think it rather good that I, as a layman, have been asked to speak to such a serious issue. As such I do not speak with ecclesiastical authority, but with the conviction that I do not avoid sin because of the pronouncements of men speaking for the church, but out of a desire to know and do the will of God. At least that is what a Christian conscience is supposed to impel me to do. I need to know the Word of God, both by the teaching of the Church AND by my own learning and internalization of the Scriptures. As Anglicans and Catholics we know ourselves to be responsible for the formation (by the Holy Spirit) of our comsciences from Scripture, wuth the guidance of the Church, not merely from directives from above.

This specific question requires a more detailed answer than I can give quickly and simply. Please be patient while I try to organize my thoughts. For the moment, I can summarize my own conclusions without quite answering the question as asked. Though we lack a single clear and authoritative directive in this matter, I fail to find how the concept of contraception reconciles with what Scripture has to say about the mind of God, and what the Fathers seem to see as His will. I don't believe it to be a practice that reconciles itself with an informed Christian conscience, and have to think of it as, on some sense sinful. More I won't say at the moment. Apparently I'm committed to write on a subject I've been avoiding.


Bruce said...

Thank you kindly, Ed. I'll be patient and look back for your response on that issue. That's one specific issue and example and I suppose I’ve some broader things on my mind prompted by our exit from our continuing parish. Some thoughts prompted by comments above:

A guess would be that the LCMS inconsistency of the type you experienced was an inevitable result of trying to form their consciences in the way you describe (although maybe with less emphasis on antiquity and St Vincent’s canon and more emphasis on scripture?? – I don’t know). Inconsistency seems less of a problem for them given “Simul Justus et Peccator” and their understanding of authority than for, say, Rome whose inconsistencies (it was once a sin to eat meat on Friday, now it’s not) and claim to singular, decisive authority make it look ridiculous.

I’m not sure Simil Justus et Peccator and Law-Gospel distinctions prevent one from shaping his conscience in the manner you describe. Maybe there are more inconsistencies but the Fathers don’t address everything and we must use (in addition to the Holy Spirit) deductive reasoning, extrapolations, etc. and we’re far from perfect.

On Shaughn’s point about Luther’s “There's Justification, period. One is either Justified, and thus saved, or not”, S.M Hutchens wrote (in an ecumenical response to the Vatican declaration Dominus Iesus) that scripture has no example of a “half-Christian” or “half-wheat or half-tare, or a tare that is honored with the name of wheat.” Note, this is not the same as teaching “once-saved by the alter call, always-saved by the alter-call.”