Saturday, October 30, 2010

22nd Sunday after Trinity

Click this link for the sermon.

Fr. Wells' bulletin inserts


The Epistle:

Today's Epistle gives us a subtle hint that Advent is not far off. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” This “day of Jesus Christ,” of course, is the great day when He shall come again to judge the living and the dead. The expression echoes the Old Testament prophetic expression, “Day of the LORD,” when God and man together will get to the bottom line. Once again, Paul is saying that Jesus is LORD, and the consummation of history belongs to Him.

But this text encompasses not only the end but also the beginning, “He who hath begun a good work in you.” That “good work” is God's work, the work of our salvation, in which lost sinners are made over into glorified saints. Note that Paul surely does not say, “the work which you have begun,” or “the work in which you co-operate with God.” Salvation is God's act, God's gift, God's achievement, God's glory, pure and simple, from start to finish.

When did this great work begin? It is tempting to suppose this “good work” of God commenced when we first knew Christ or began to believe on Him as Lord and Saviour. But God always has the initiative, the priority; as Genesis says, “In the beginning God!” That is as true in our salvation as in our creation. As the hymn says, “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew, He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking Me.” St John was more blunt: “We love, because He first loved us.”

This initiative is beautifully displayed at the Font, when small infants, incapable of conscious faith, unable to make any save the most selfish decisions, not knowing even the name of Jesus, are baptized in the name of the Triune God. This is the sacrament of regeneration, when we pray that God will grant to the infant “that which by nature he cannot have.” In that sacrament God truly gives a second birth and new life in His new creation.

Between that earliest beginning in the simple sacrament of Holy Baptism, and the great “Day of Jesus Christ,” there lies a long growth for every Christian soul. The markers along this pilgrimage route are conscious faith and repentance, union with Christ, forgiveness of sins, adoption into the family of God, spiritual growth, internal renovation, progress in holiness, separation from sin, restoration of God's image within us, increasing Christ-like-ness. To assist us in this journey God provides the “means of grace” in the reading and study of His Word, in the Holy Communion and all the sacraments, the worship of His Church and fellowship of His people.

The Christian is a work in progress. But Paul was deeply confident of the final outcome for the Philippians. Would he be equally confident of the final outcome for us? LKW

The Gospel:

Today's reading from Matthew's Gospel deals with the matter of forgiveness. It involves a long parable which illustrates the familiar petition from the Lord's Prayer, given in Matthew as “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” but in Luke as “forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” (The familiar liturgical form, “Forgive us our trespasses,” is only a paraphrase.)

The petition briefly and the parable at length state with perfect clarity the correlation between God's forgiveness of the debt we owe Him (a debt which can only be satisfied by the blood of God's own Son) and the offenses we have suffered from others. As God has shown mercy and forgiveness to us, Christians likewise are bound to show similar mercy and forgiveness. Christians may never seek revenge on those who have wronged us, may never practice spite, and may never hold grudges. Such behavior is truly natural for us because our nature is sinful. But the Christian is a man or woman who is controlled not by nature but by super-nature. We live not according to our old fallen state but by grace and the new nature God has given us.

But sad to say, we commonly distort this noble, beautiful, and painful vision of Christian behavior. We must take great heed to our spiritual condition whenever we say, “You should be more forgiving,” or “He should not feel that way.” The requirement of forgiveness is no rule for us to apply to others! If Bill injures John's home, family, or fortune, it is not for Steve to tell John, “You ought not hold that grudge.” When we fall into that moral trap, we are probably failing to practice forgiveness ourselves. As the Gospel has been secularized and diluted, the principle of forgiveness has become warped and judgmental. We all know many Steves who will sit in judgment on John without knowing the full story of what Bill has done.

Forgiveness also must never become the mask for moral indifference. Our Lord does not ask us (on the contrary, He forbids us!) to engage in sloppy moral judgments. We are never to stand idly by when others are being harmed or when evil itself goes on a rampage. When the Nazis were slaughtering the Jews and numerous others with them, there were many sentimental folk, who considered themselves to be excellent Christians, who urged a “forgiving” attitude toward the Nazis. Who would presume to “forgive” an abortionist?

When we see (and we are under judgment if we fail to see) the public harmed by the bad behavior of our leaders, our duty is not to forgive but to confront and to remove. The rule of forgiveness is no license for moral compromise or surrender to evil. LKW

Friday, October 29, 2010


Fr. Laurence Wells

About thirty years ago a priest of the Continuing Church wrote a letter to the Christian Challenge in which he declared that there is not a single one of the Articles which is not subject to dispute. That priest had little use for what he called "the Elizabethan settlement." He soon betook himself to the Papal obedience. I could not resist the temptation to take him up on his unqualified claim "not a single one," and in my own beguiling manner pointed out that Article I simply states that "There is but one living and true God." My letter to the Challenge touched off one of those epistolary battles we used to enjoy before the arrival of the Internet. A dear and witty friend of mine, now with the Lord, quoted II Corinthians 11:24, "Five times I receive at the hands of the Jews forty lashes save one." Being a young priest at the time (to me 40 seems very young indeed), I learned that the Articles are a touchy subject and anyone who says anything at all good about them will quickly draw negative attention.

Discussions of the Articles have a way of bogging down over the point of their current legal standing and the degree of our commitment to them. Someone will bring forth the obvious banal observation that once upon a time they had not been written. Others will point out the virtual silence of our various canonical instruments on the current status of the Articles. I do not know for sure of any jurisdiction of the Continuum which is legally forsworn to the Articles. No cleric, to my recollection, has been formally charged in modern times with teaching contrary to the Articles; but a few, I can truly attest, have raised eyebrows for speaking kindly of them. For the nonce, for the sake of the argument, I will yield the point and concede that the Articles are legally a dead issue among us, their canonical authority having fallen into desuetude. Promoting some disciplinary enforcement of the Articles is far from my purpose.

I will argue instead that the Articles truly do possess authority, not necessarily a legal authority, but simply the authority of truth. Such statements as "There is but one living and true God" or "Christ did truly rise again from the dead" will stand or fall on their own strength. They require no action from a Church Synod. So from this lofty and perilous tree-stand, we will proceed to examine the Articles one by one. We will endeavor to show that those who reject the Articles as a whole may prove too much.

Having conceded that the canonical status of the Articles is virtually moot, allow me also to observe that they possess no quality of inerrancy. There are several places where one might prefer that things had been phrased differently. In Article XXV, for example, I wish the author had written, "The New Testament sets forth seven rites or ordinances, which the Church properly calls Sacraments, two of them directly ordained by Christ Himself, and the others firmly grounded in Apostolic practice and Scriptural teaching." Not that the original language there is entirely wrong, but it does require some gymnastics of interpretation. But a far more serious mistake is found in Article II, where "reconcile" is used when "propitiate" would have been the correct Biblical term. But to borrow a metaphor from Charles Hodge, these are only "flecks of granite in the marble of the Parthenon." They do not destroy the beauty of the building but they serve to make it more interesting.

The masterful commentary entitled "The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England" written by Edgar C. S. Gibson, Bishop of Gloucester and published in 1896, divides the Articles into four sections. I quote him verbatim:

"The most natural and convenient division of them, in accordance with their subject-matter, appears to be the following:

I. The Catholic Faith and where it may be found (Articles I--VIII).

(a) The Faith (Articles I.--V.)

(b) Scripture and the Creeds (Articles VI. -- VIII.)

II. Personal Religion, or Man and His Salvation (Articles IX. -- XVIII).

III. Corporate Religion, or the Church, the Ministry, and the Sacraments (Articles XIX. -- XXXI).

IV. Miscellaneous Articles, relating to the discipline of the Church of England, its relation to the civil power, etc.

(Articles XXXII -- XXXIX).

Now let us proceed to examine the Articles separately, beginning with Article I.

(To be continued.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Babies and bathwater

In the coming weeks I plan, with the collaboration and partnership of Fr. Laurence Wells, to produce for The Continuum thirty-nine articles on the Thirty-Nine Articles. Readers have asked me to take on such a project, and I can think of no one better suited to work with me than Fr. Wells. We plan to call this the Layman's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles, inasmuch as the title War and Peace is taken.

Let me say up front what we are not trying to do. We are not trying to compete with existing commentaries. Good material is out there, and I have recommended the work of E.J. Bicknell above all others. However, the average layman could benefit from a study centered on Biblical theology. We are not trying to blow sixteenth century theology out of proportion. Nonetheless, the need exists to recover essential truth that is all too often rejected and dismissed by modern Anglicans, including Continuing Anglicans whose specific weakness in this area is all too clear to us.

Also, we are not interested in arguing the legal status of the Articles, although we are willing to support our stand when we introduce the work. The legal status of truth is a very interesting question, inasmuch as none of us belongs to a state church in which doctrine is reduced to a loyalty oath. Canon Law requires that only orthodox doctrine may be taught, and contains measures to keep the people safe from destructive heresy.

But, the exact legal status of one written work, in this case the Articles as a publication that became part of the the Book of Common Prayer, falls almost into insignificance compared to unshakable convictions held by the people. Legal status cannot persuade, nor can lack of legal status deter. The question of whether or not the Articles are "binding" upon us is not unlike a question asked to Arthur Dent when he was lying in a ditch to prevent a bulldozer from destroying his house, in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Mr. Prosser: "Do you know how much damage this bulldozer would sustain if I just let it run over you?"

Arthur Dent: "How much?"

Mr. Prosser: "None at all."

When the Lord stood before Pilate, the Roman Governor questioned Him about His kingdom.

"Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice." John 18:37

Truth is not partisan, and honest study is no respecter of persons or agenda. Truth has authority that is like a river. Whatever stands in its way will, in time, be removed out of its way, so that the constant flowing of water has overcome obstacles and cut its way permanently into the earth, producing such wonders as the Grand Canyon. More important to us than the legal status of the Articles is the truth they teach.

Restoring balance
The work of the English Reformers has suffered at the hands of sincere people who call themselves Anglicans. On one hand people claiming to champion the theology of the Reformation have distorted the works of English Reformers to deprive them of any distinction from favored Continental Reformers. They have been jammed and hammered collectively as square pegs into the round holes of Lutheranism, Calvinism, and even Zwinglianism. But, the simple fact is, the English Reformation was a specific brand. As the website for the Diocese of the Holy Trinity (ACC-OP) says:

The Church of England arose as a separate catholic body out of the English version of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, but never intended the type of dramatic separation advocated by Protestants on the Continent. It took great care to preserve the Apostolic Succession, and with it the sacramental life of the Church, but at the same time participated fully in the rediscovery of Holy Scripture and the ministry of the Word so dear to Protestants. Are we catholic or protestant? In truth, the answer has to be "both"!

Many ideas overlapped, and the terminology was often identical, not only among the Reformers, but with ideas that had been debated by western catholics for centuries. But, overlap and common terminology appear to be absolute consensus only to lazy readers and lazy thinkers who seize upon one or two words (for example, "Predestination"), and miss the point. In fact, there were no new ideas in the Reformation, whether German, Swiss or English, except for what may have been new ideas of Puritans and Anabaptists and the "Real Absence" attributed to Zwingli. But, even those were not exactly new, and had their roots in old heresies.

Some of the people who try to hammer the Thirty-Nine Articles and other works of the English Reformers into the round hole of their choice, advocating a kind of Protestantism that is different from Anglican Protestantism, are among the people who call themselves Reasserters, and who blog on Stand Firm. What is ironic is that they find agreement from a modern brand of Anglo-Catholic.

That is a modern brand of Anglo-Catholic that agrees quickly with its adversary, but not while on the way with him. Such a self-proclaimed Anglo-Catholic protagonist and his Reasserter antagonist keep their distance, and aim at separate destinations, all the while agreeing with each other about the meaning of the English Reformers. Furthermore, this modern brand of Anglo-Catholic is not authentic, inasmuch as genuine Anglo-Catholicism was a movement in history led by men who never abandoned the Book of Common Prayer, and who defended the Formularies of Anglicanism.

The genuine Anglo-Catholics served a necessary function in their generation, as necessary as the Reformers had served in their own generation. The Reformers restored the Catholic doctrines of Justification, of faith, and of the need for everyone to receive the Dominical Sacraments. They restored faith in Christ Only, rejecting many errors that had obscured and even hidden the message of Christ's Gospel from the people. Centuries later, the Anglo-Catholics restored the reverence that ought to be accorded the sacrament, belief in the Communion of saints as a reality that crosses the boundaries of life and death, and above all restored prominence to the Incarnation.

But, the modern "wannabe" Anglo-Catholics seem not to have read the works of the men they pretend to follow. They exhibit symptoms by which we may recognize them as something altogether different, and altogether new. These symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:

1. Mistaking all things Roman for true Catholic Faith.
2. Feeling a need to "correct" the "mistakes and shortcomings" they imagine to be in the Book of Common Prayer.
3. Confusing Anglican Formularies with heresy.
4. Expressing a desire to remove such perfectly Catholic expressions of truth as the Comfortable Words, or the Prayer of Humble Access.
5. Misreading Article XXV to squeeze or hammer it into the Reasserter crowd's round holes (more on that later).
6. Thinking an Ordinariate will rescue them.

In short, they are ignorant.

In conclusion, we are not writing on the Articles to overstate their place in the overall history of the Universal Church and its teaching. Their accuracy is supposed to be tested, and well their framers intended it so to be. Above all, they are to be judged by the Scriptures:

"[Article] VI. Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
HOLY Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation."

Part of why we are writing about the Articles is to rescue them from unskillful hands in which they are dangerous. Like dynamite, they may be put to good use, or to evil use. The same is true, however, of Holy Scripture itself (see II Peter 3:16). The Articles are with us for the foreseeable future, which in theology means several generations while the earth stands. In the wrong hands they can do much harm; but, in the right hands they teach the truth and provide a good medicine.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

21st Sunday after Trinity

I am posting a rerun this week, because the Archbishop will be with us at St. Benedict's this Sunday

Eph. 6:10-20

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

In the nice world of religious pleasantries, today’s text from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians has no meaning. The idea of spiritual warfare, striving against demons, is seen as quaint, outdated, the product of an age of ignorance rendered irrelevant by scientific rationalizations. In other words, it is disregarded due to the bigotry of our modern age, and the arrogant assumption that the little bit of knowledge we have gained about material things gives us wisdom about the invisible world and its realities. The words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet speak to our age : “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

The problem with the modern Rationalist prejudice is that people who suffer from it think it is not a prejudice. They do not know the difference between being rational and being a Rationalist. We ought to be rational enough to recognize the belief that there must be a scientific explanation for everything as simply a new dogma that rests on faith without evidence- the very thing they accuse us of. They say “a rational explanation” or “scientific explanation” because they either disregard the true meaning of words, or do not know what the words mean. By “rational,” they do not mean the use of reason, but rather the prejudiced dismissal of belief in natures supernatural to those natures below them. By “scientific” they do not mean the acquisition of knowledge through empiricism, but rather, the dismissal of facts that cannot be explained in strictly material terms. For these reasons, we should not regard Rationalists as being either rational, scientific or sophisticated. Quite the opposite.

On the other hand, a large number of people these days who escape the influence of the Rationalist prejudice look for the supernatural in all the wrong places. A few years ago I was watching something, that passed for a documentary, about a family that had been living in fear and torment because their daily experiences indicated to them that their house was haunted. In fact, they feared that the spirits were evil, and even called them demonic. But, to whom did they turn for help? They called in a man who supposedly was a “Doctor of Paranormal Psychology.” I don’t know where they found this D.P.P. (which I would like to pronounce “dip”), but, I do know that there is no university anywhere that would bestow a doctorate for something called “Paranormal Psychology.” That is, of course, unless Mr. Haney from the old comedy “Green Acres” has opened his own university with con-artistry of the most absurd kind. And, who did this alleged doctor call in for “expert” help? A psychic, of course (from among those whom the literate call mediums). And, did the "psychic"- that is, medium- offer any help? No. Just very bad advice, namely, to regard the tormenting affliction as a rare “psychic” gift. Finally, after finding no help from the psychic, they asked their pastor for help. It turns out that they were members of some sort of Pentecostal denomination. It was obvious, from a scene filmed in their church, that theirs was not one of the kooky fringe snake-handling types, but a simple old fashioned Protestant congregation with a seemingly reasonable pastor, one who seemed to know how to pray in faith. I wonder why these church-going people failed to go to their pastor first.

I mention this because, if any of you are impressed by psychics, or fortune-tellers, or go to seances, or submit to hypnotism to recall "past lives" (a thing which no one has had), then it is time you were straightened out. The kinds of evil spirits that Saint Paul speaks of in today’s Epistle are very real. If you are looking for the supernatural in all the wrong places yourself, there are two things you need to know. First of all, it is a sin. It belongs to a forbidden world of idolatry and magic that the Biblical prophets referred to as a spiritual form of adultery, because it is unfaithfulness to God. Second, it is forbidden because it is dangerous. You may think that demon possession is only a Hollywood genre within a larger genre of horror movies. No. It is real, and the Church has always maintained that it is real. I have had to perform an exorcism on a real life demon possessed person in my time, and I know it is real. It is part of the healing ministry of Christ in and through His Church. It is all of it quite real, everything you see in the pages of scripture, all of those supernatural events recorded in the New Testament (and, by the way, if you think you may need someone to do an exorcism, don’t call in a psychic. It is a job for a priest, not a circus sideshow act).

We live in a natural world that interacts with a world of holy angels and fallen angels. The holy angels are God’s servants, and the fallen angels are called "demons" (δαιμόνιον, daimonion) in the New Testament (translated as “devils” in the King James Version). The latter seem not to be super-human, but sub-human. The evidence indicates that they resent us, because we are destined, by God’s grace in the Lord Jesus Christ, to become “partakers of the Divine nature.” (II Pet. 1:4) Satan and his fallen angels were defeated when Christ died on the cross, the sinless One for the sins of the many. If you saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion, you may recall that right after the Lord gives up His spirit and dies, and the earth quakes, that Satan cries out in agony from being defeated. That is not a bad scene at all; it makes a very true point about Christ in his cross defeating the enemy of mankind. Because we live in the time of Easter, that is Christ’s resurrection, and because we live in the time of Pentecost, that is, because we are the Church of Christ filled with the Holy Spirit and His gifts and power, we need not fear any evil power such as the spirits mentioned in today’s Epistle. They are, as the Lord Jesus told us, subject to us. If I may be critical of some of my clerical colleagues in the Roman camp, an exorcism is not something to be tried or attempted. It is, rather, something to be done. When it is the appropriate thing to do, it must be done with faith, faith that it cannot possibly fail. (Matt. 17:20)

Listen to these words from the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel:

And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:17-20)

This brings us to an unavoidable question: If they are subject to us, and we can trample all over them, and they cannot hurt us, why does Saint Paul tell us to put on the whole armor of God? Why are we in a fight? The answer is to be found in scripture, and also in the tradition of spiritual warriors throughout the history of the Church, such as Saint Anthony and the desert fathers; it is continued today among monks such as my younger brother got to know on the famous Mount Athos, and many others who have been spiritual directors. The demons work hidden from our view through temptations into sin, and they work mainly through deception.

In the New Testament we see that false teaching is attributed to the work of demons. The scripture speaks of “seducing spirits and doctrines of demons,” “the spirit of error” and the “spirit of Antichrist.” How do you understand that in our time the former Episcopal bishop of New Jersey attracts audiences and readers by proclaiming that it is high time for Christianity to abandon belief in God? How is it that many cults exist that cause people to suffer both spiritual and physical harm? Apart from the countless and shocking examples of heresy, ask yourself how much you are willing, in your own mind, to abandon the direct teaching of the word of God in the scripture as understood by the Church in every place and age, in favor of ideas that you like better? Where do those ideas come from? These ideas, that we all must fight by wearing "the helmet of salvation," are capable of reaching the flesh because it has sympathetic vibrations in its tendency to sin. All of us must wear the armor, the whole armor of God, and we must consciously and deliberately put it on every day.

It is time we all took heed to Saint Paul’s words. It is time we all put upon ourselves the whole armor of God, and gave ourselves to prayer.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fr. Wells' Bulletin Inserts


Today's reading from the Epistles (which we habitually call “the Epistle” for short), contains the familiar picture of “the whole armor of God.” Literally volumes have been written unpacking this metaphor. But we should not neglect an equally striking expression, when Paul describes himself as “an ambassador in bonds.”

An ambassador is th
e international representative of a government. In Paul's world, an ambassador was the representative of an emperor or at least of a king. As such an ambassador was a man of high rank, who dressed and carried himself as one who represented royalty. Even in our world with only a few kings or emperors left, ambassadors are people of great dignity. Ride along “Embassy Row” in Washington DC and you will survey elegance and opulence not many of us experience daily.

In the ancient world the dignity and fine manners of an ambassador reflected both on the king who sent him and the city to which he was sent. The Athenians once sent to Sparta an ambassador who was a tongue-tied man with a club foot. The Spartans understood the insult and responded accordingly. (The Greeks were not famous for humane-ness.)

So Paul calls himself “an ambassador in bonds,” as he was making his way to Rome as a prisoner appealing his case before Caesar's court. The expression is striking in two ways. First, he claims that the Christ, on whose behalf he speaks, is nothing less than a king, far more powerful than Caesar, “the King of kings and Lord of lords.” This claim was unflattering to a man who was in the habit of being flattered. The only thing to save Paul's neck was that Caesar probably did not take this seriously. We recall the dismissive way in which Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “Art thou a king then?” Pontius Pilate probably thought it was some kind of a sick joke.

The other prong of the expression was that the very chains and manacles Paul was wearing were the message he was bringing to Caesar. Paul wrote elsewhere (1 Cor. 1:27—29) “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world ... so that no man might boast in the presence of God.”

We too are ambassadors of Christ. It is not ours to parade and preen ourselves like worldly diplomats, relying on ordinary strength. Whenever we do, we fail. We are the heralds, both humble and bold, of a crucified Prince and risen Saviour. LKW


Today's Gospel reading bears some interesting relationship to other passages from the Gospel. The story of Our Lord's healing the son of a "nobleman" (a functionary from the court of the despised King Herod Antipas) is almost parallel to the incident found in Matthew 8 and Luke 7, the healing of the centurion's servant. In both cases, we see an unlikely person making a desperate request on behalf of someone else. The similarity has even led some to imagine that these are two different versions of the same incident.

But that can hardly be. The differences are as striking as the resemblances.

A nobleman and his son are not a centurion and his servant. But it is interesting that both stories affirm in different ways the power of Jesus to heal at a distance. The centurion story tells us that Jesus was actually approaching the man's home, but the man protested, "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof," and asked Jesus to heal from afar. In the story we read today, the nobleman begged Jesus to come, but Jesus refused, using His divine power to heal someone who had never seen him.

In today's passage from John, we have the remark of Jesus, "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe." At first blush, this seems to be something of a rebuke on the part of Jesus, a rebuke which seems hardly appropriate for a man whose son is at the point of death. But we must resist the temptation to interpret this saying in terms of that ugly scene in Luke 11, "And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven." The "signs and wonders" remark in today's Gospel is no rebuke at all to the nobleman, but an observation of Jesus regarding the crowd looking on.

At John 2:18, after Jesus had cleansed the Temple, we find the crowd asking, "What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?" At 6:30, the question came up again, "What sign shewest thou then, that we may see and believe thee?" It was ironic that this question was asked immediately after the stupendous miracle of His feeding 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fishes, evidence of hardness of heart and mental blindness.

The amazing thing, the Gospel for us in the Gospel of the Prayer Book, is that Jesus truly grants the signs and wonders which sinners need in order to believe. We are not required to make some blind "leap of faith." We have before our very eyes the continuing miracles of the Church's sacramental life and the wonders of many transfigured personalities, already raised up into God's New Creation. "And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him." Do we believe the word which Jesus has spoken unto us?


Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Protestant image?

C.S. Lewis

A Church of Mere Christianity?

My friend David Mills posted a critique of C.S. Lewis' book Mere Christianity on the First Things website (which you may find here), and asked me to join in the comments. The part that David Mills wrote about was the analogy of Christianity as a house with many rooms. Part of his essay says:

"The problem is that image of the house with the rooms, illustrating what Lewis meant by 'mere Christianity.' It appears in the preface to Mere Christianity. 'I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else,' Lewis writes.
It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. . . . It is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.

It sounds irenic and ecumenical, but it is a Protestant image for a Protestant doctrine. It makes the Catholic Church a room like any other room. It is a way of saying that the differences between Protestants and Catholics would be solved very easily . . . if Catholics became Protestants."

"These Catholics have to think of the Church as a denomination like any other, and they should stop putting on airs. From the Protestant point of view, the Catholic who insists that his church is the Church is a lot like the old codger in 4B coming round demanding the rent or imposing a curfew on the other apartments. He may be the oldest and wealthiest and most learned person in the building, but still, he’s just the old codger in 4B."

Then James Kushiner, the Executive Editor of Touchstone, wrote a friendly critique of the critique (which you may find here). Part of James Kushiner's essay says,

"My puzzlement at this point comes from my thinking that Lewis does not seem to be suggesting the Mere Christianity as any sort of solution at all for the differences between Protestants and Catholic. After all, he insists that it doesn't even suffice for an individual Christian to use on the level of a creed or in place of an affiliation with, to use what I believe is common Roman Catholic language, 'ecclesial bodies.' If it isn't able to serve in that way, how would it serve to unite Christians? Perhaps Lewis entertained hopes elsewhere in his writings that it could, but I do not recall such sentiments. I don't recall them in his ecumenically-minded correspondence with the Catholic priest Dom Giovanni Calabria. Now it is certainly the case that some or many who have adopted Lewis's Mere Christianity have crafted their own version of it and think that if Catholics and Protestants could just agree on MC, progress toward Christian unity could be made. They also have used Lewis here to fill in their own notion of what the church really is like, given the multiplicity of denominations. This is understandable, and David is correct that this is a Protestant image by and large. But is it Lewis' idea?

"Where I think I disagree with the blog is where the mere metaphor of a house and hallway for a something-less-than-a-defined-creed but something-substantial-all-the-same is put in the dock to field the question What Exactly is the House? The question of What is the Church, which is what is meant, is an extremely important question. But I do not believe Lewis himself is suggesting that his metaphoric house is meant to stand for the House of the Church. (Perhaps I am wrong about this. I don't claim to be a Lewis scholar.) Moving from Lewis's house to Church is what I question. [If] I am right, then I do not think criticizing the metaphor for its ecclesiological flaws works. Since ecclesiology is one of those things that we do not and cannot agree on, would Lewis have it in mind as part of Mere Christianity or include it as part of his metaphor? Is his use of 'house' innocently divorced from an idea of 'church'?"

For many years David Mills was a fighter for orthodox reform in the Episcopal Church, and was associated with the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (TESM). In 2001 he became a Roman Catholic. James Kushiner is a member of the Antiochene Orthodox Church, in fact a member of All Saints Parish in Chicago where Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon is the Pastor (former Roman Catholic, and former Episcopal priest, who taught at both Nashota House and TESM, a current Senior Editor at Touchstone). My association with Touchstone is well known, as is my brother David Bentley Hart's popularity as a regularly featured writer for First Things (who declined the offer to be the Editor). So, this group of writers is my other circle (i.e. other than ACC priests).

The issue that stands out is one that both men, David Mills and James Kushiner (both of whom I count as friends), have mentioned; that is, a Protestant image, or Protestant notion, of the Church. This idea, one that David Mills himself put forward, is that C.S. Lewis presented a "Protestant" notion of the Church by his analogy. This, however, begs the question, What is a Protestant notion of the Church? It begs another question, and that is, what would C.S. Lewis have written if, in fact, his purpose had been to write about the Church?

First of all, I agree with James Kushiner: "But I do not believe Lewis himself is suggesting that his metaphoric house is meant to stand for the House of the Church." Indeed, the purpose of the book, Mere Christianity, was pre-evangelistic, to help modern thinkers overcome objections to Christianity itself, especially the sort of objections most common to the modern (and, if you prefer, post modern) era. One fact that is obvious to everyone, and therefore to everyone who is undecided about Christianity, is outward and organizational division. C.S. Lewis wanted to establish a common, creedal, Christianity that shares the most basic beliefs, an idea that is true enough indeed. It is why, for example, that I as an Anglican priest can write in glowing terms my praise of Billy Graham, and at the same time publicly reveal my admiration for the theological writing of Pope Benedict XVI.

But, to mention something called a Protestant image of the Church is like punching the Tar Baby, and doubly so when considering the ideas of the very Traditional and sincere Anglican, C.S. Lewis. What is a "Protestant" image? If we mean simply ideas put forth in modern times, it can mean almost no concept at all. Or, it can refer to a Presbyterian construct, or to the closely related Genevan Discipline that is even more authentically Calvinist. Or, it may refer to a semi-episcopal structure such as the Lutherans have. Or, it may refer to the Congregationalism that has grown up in America, or to the various notions that have been created by loose, wild and uneducated attempts to be "biblical," such as the many kinds of churches we see in Pentecostalism. Finally, it can mean the Episcopal structure we have held to as Anglicans all along, which Richard Hooker defended so thoroughly in The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

If we think in terms of classic Reformation teaching, whether German (Lutheran), Swiss (Calvinist) or English, we always find something that reads very much like the first portion of our Article XIX.

XIX. Of the Church.
THE visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

However, that description, which is not only a Protestant description, but a genuinely authentic one, has in it nothing about the Church that is not also thoroughly Catholic, and frankly quite compatible with both Roman Catholic and Orthodox belief about the Church.

And, to deal honestly with the specific church body of which C.S. Lewis was a faithful member, requires recognition of the Episcopal structure as distinct from most Protestant paradigms. Lewis lived and died in a Church that had a very clear polity, one that many other Protestant churches rejected then and now, and that is consistent rather with the beliefs of Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholicism. Lewis did not hold to Mere Church, but to the Church of the Creeds and to Apostolic Succession as described in the Preface to the Ordinal in the Book of Common Prayer, including such things as the three Orders of Ministry.

To mention something called a Protestant image of the Church, and to contrast that image against something called a Catholic image, is far too simplistic. It is especially so when writing about an Anglican, and trying to summarize his views by using the neat and tidy categorizations of modern linguistic usage. It merely drives home the distinct nature of Anglicanism, both Catholic and Protestant, as defiant of simplistic categorization as our noble mascot for this blog, the Duck-Billed Platypus.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A quick look into the madhouse

Left over from the time in which I added to a meager living by reporting and commenting for The Christian Challenge, I still receive email from Episcopal Life Online. Generally I delete it. But, my curiosity was aroused when I saw that Mizzz Jefforts-Schori had attempted to discuss "the pursuit of happiness." I wanted to know what such a clergyperson, the same one who thinks cow flatulence is the main focus of Easter, would have to say about a few of Jefferson's words. How much anti-scholarship would she show? (By the way, here is a clue to right understanding: "Pursuit" in 1776 would have meant occupation, what one does for a living; it did not mean to chase something.) I never got around to reading her brilliant insights, because curiosity has its limits, and one can take only so much banality in one day.

Instead, my eye caught a headline that the TEC Commission on Liturgy and Music was being asked to create a service for Same Sex Blessings that is "done with intention, truthfulness and that begins with the words 'dearly beloved.'...It needs to sound like something that's recognizable." In other words, they really mean to treat their ceremony as if it were the celebration of a sacrament. The Church, after all, does not marry anyone, but simply blesses the marital union. Don't be fooled by the absence of the word "Marriage." This is what the "Ordination" of women was all about in the first place: It was about getting them to this point in their development of doctrinal error by making the sex of a person irrelevant to a sacrament.

I don't know what they want to do with liturgy, but I suggest that for music they include the song "Frankie and Johnnies were lovers" in a new edition of the Hernia. It must be called a Hernia, because "Hymnal" is sexist. "Hernia" would be more inclusive by excluding every real Hymn.

Back to real life after looking in at the madhouse.


You have heard in the second part of this Sermon, that no man should think that he hath that lively faith which the Scripture commandeth, when he liveth not obediently to God's laws; for all good works spring out of that faith. And also it hath been declared unto you by examples, that faith maketh men stedfast, quiet, and patient in all affliction. Now as concerning the same matter, you shall hear what followeth.

A man may soon deceive himself, and think in his own fantasy that he by faith knoweth God, loveth him, feareth him, and belongeth to him, when in very deed he doth nothing less. For the trial of all these things is a very godly and Christian life. He that feeleth his heart set to seek God's honour; and studieth to know the will and commandments of God, and to frame himself thereunto; and leadeth not his life after the desire of his own flesh, to serve the devil by sin; but setteth his mind to serve God for God's own sake; and for his sake also to love all his neighbours, whether they be friends or adversaries, doing good to every man, as opportunity serveth, and willingly hurting no man; such a man may well rejoice in God, perceiving by the trade of his life, that he unfeignedly hath the right knowledge of God, a lively faith, a stedfast hope, a true and unfeigned love and fear of God. But he that casteth away the yoke of God's commandments from his neck; and giveth himself to live without true repentance, after his own sensual mind and pleasure, not regarding to know God's word, and much less to live according thereunto; such a man clearly deceiveth himself, and seeth not his own heart, if he thinketh that he either knoweth God, loveth him, feareth him, or trusteth in him.

Some peradventure fancy in themselves that they belong to God, although they live in sin; and so they come to the Church, and shew themselves as God's dear children. But Saint John saith plainly, If we say that we have any company with God, and walk in darkness, we do lie. Others do vainly think that they know and love God, although they pass not of his commandments. But Saint John saith clearly, He that saith, I know God, and keepeth not his commandments, he is a liar. Some falsely persuade themselves, that they love God, when they hate their neighbours. But Saint John saith manifestly, If any man say, I love God, and yet hateth his brother, he is a liar. He that saith that he is in the light, and hateth his brother, he is still in darkness. He that loveth his brother dwelleth in the light; but he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth: for darkness hath blinded his eyes. And moreover he saith, Hereby we manifestly know the children of God from the children of the devil: He that doth not righteously is not the child of God, nor he that hateth his brother.

Deceive not yourselves, therefore, thinking that you have faith in God, or that you love God, or do trust in him, or do fear him, when you live in sin: for then your ungodly and sinful life declareth the contrary, whatsoever you say or think. It pertaineth to a Christian man to have this true Christian faith; and to try himself whether he hath it or no; and to know what belongeth to it, and how it doth work in him. It is not the world that we can trust to: the world, and all that is therein, is but vanity. It is God that must be our defence and protection against all temptation of wickedness and sin, errors, superstition, idolatry, and all evil. If all the world were on our side, and God against us, what could the world avail us? Therefore let us set our whole faith and trust in God, and neither the world, the devil, nor all the power of them, shall prevail against us.

Let us therefore, good Christian people, try and examine our faith, what it is; let us not flatter ourselves, but look upon our works, and so judge of our faith what it is. Christ himself speaketh of this matter, and saith, The tree is known by the fruit. Therefore let us do good works, and thereby declare our faith to be the lively Christian faith. Let us, by such virtues as ought to spring up out of faith, shew our election to be sure and stable; as Saint Peter teacheth, Endeavour yourselves to make your calling and election certain by good works.

And also he saith, Minister or declare in your faith virtue, in virtue knowledge, in knowledge temperance, in temperance patience, in patience godliness, in godliness brotherly charity, in brotherly charity love. So shall we shew indeed that we have the very lively Christian faith; and may so both certify our conscience the better that we be in the right faith, and also by these means confirm other men. If these fruits do not follow, we do but mock with God, deceive ourselves, and also other men. Well may we bear the name of Christian men, but we do lack the true faith that doth belong thereunto: for true faith doth ever bring forth good works; as Saint James saith, Shew me thy faith by thy deeds. Thy deeds and works must be an open testimonial of thy faith: otherwise thy faith, being without good works, is but the Devil's faith, the faith of the wicked, a fantasy of faith, and not a true Christian faith.

And like as the devils and evil people be nothing the better for their counterfeit faith, but it is unto them the more cause of damnation: so they that be christened, and have received knowledge of God and of Christ's merits: and yet of a set purpose do live idly, without good works; thinking the name of a naked faith to be either sufficient for them, or else setting their minds upon vain pleasures of this world, do live in sin without repentance, not uttering the fruits that do belong to such an high profession; upon such presumptuous persons and wilful sinners must needs remain the great vengeance of God, and eternal punishment in hell, prepared for the unjust and wicked livers.

Therefore, as you profess the name of Christ, good Christian people, let no such fantasy and imagination of faith at any time beguile you; but be sure of your faith; try it by your living; look upon the fruits that come of it; mark the increase of love and charity by it towards God and your neighbour; and so shall you perceive it to be a true and lively faith. If you feel and perceive such a faith in you, rejoice in it; and be diligent to maintain it and keep it still in you; let it be daily increasing, and more and more be well working; and so shall you be sure that you shall please God by this faith; and at the length, as other faithful men have done before, so shall you, when his will is, come to him, and receive the end and final reward of your faith, as Saint Peter nameth it, the salvation of your souls.

The which God grant us, that hath promised the same unto his faithful; to whom be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Following Part I, here are more of those dangerous Protestant ideas you were warned about--dangerous indeed, to the Devil & his angels.


We have heard in the first part of this Sermon, that there be two kinds of faith; a dead and an unfruitful faith, and a faith lively, that worketh by charity: the first to be unprofitable; the second, necessary for the obtaining of our salvation: the which faith hath charity always joined unto it, and is fruitful, bringing forth all good works. Now as concerning the same matter, you shall hear what followeth.

The Wise Man saith, He that believeth in God, will hearken unto his commandments. For if we do not shew ourselves faithful in our conversation, the faith which we pretend to have is but a feigned faith: because the true Christian faith is manifestly shewed by good living, and not by words only; as Saint Augustine saith, "Good living cannot be separated from true faith, which worketh by love". And Saint Chrysostom saith, "Faith of itself is full of good works: as soon as a man doth believe, he shall be garnished with them".

How plentiful this faith is of good works, and how it maketh the work of one man more acceptable to God than of another, Saint Paul teacheth at large in the eleventh chapter to the Hebrews, saying that faith made the oblation of Abel better than the oblation of Cain. This made Noah to build the ark. This made Abraham to forsake his country and all his friends, and go into a far country, there to dwell among strangers. So did also Isaac and Jacob, depending, or hanging, only on the help and trust that they had in God. And when the came to the country, which God promised them, they would build no dties, towns, or houses; but lived like strangers in tents, that might every day be removed. Their trust was so much in God, that they set but little by any worldly thing; for that God had prepared for them better dwelling-places in heaven, of his own foundation and building. This faith made Abraham ready at God's commandment to offer his own son and heir Isaac - whom he loved so well, and by whom he was promised to have innumerable issue; among the which, One should be born, in whom all nations should be blessed - trusting so much in God, that though he were slain, yet that Cod was able by his omnipotent power to raise him from death, and perform his promise. He mistrusted not the promise of Cod, although unto his reason every thing seemed contrary. He believed verily that God would not forsake him in dearth and famine, that was in the country. And in all other dangers that he was brought unto, he trusted ever that God would be his God, and his Protector and Defender, whatsoever he saw to the contrary.

This faith wrought so in the heart of Moses, that he refused to be taken for King Pharaoh's daughter's son, and to have great inheritance in Egypt; thinking it better, with the people of God to have affliction and sorrow, than with naughty men in sin to live pleasantly for a time. By faith he cared not for the threatening of King Pharaoh: for his trust was so in God, that he passed not of the felicity of this world, but looked for the reward to come in heaven; setting his heart upon the invisible God, as if he had seen him ever present before his eyes. By faith the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea. By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down without stroke, and many other wonderful miracles have been wrought. In all good men that heretofore have been, faith hath brought forth their good works, and obtained the promises of God.

Faith hath stopped the lion's mouth: faith hath quenched the force of fire: faith hath escaped the sword's edge: faith hath given weak men strength, victory in battle; overthrown the armies of infidels; raised the dead to life. Faith hath made good men to take adversity in good part: some have been mocked and whipped, bound and cast in prison; some have lost all their goods, and lived in great poverty; some have wandered in mountains, hills, and wildernesses; some have been racked, some slain, some stoned, some sawn, some rent in pieces, some beheaded, some burnt without mercy, and would not be delivered because they looked to rise again to a better state.

All these Fathers, Martyrs, and other holy men, of whom Saint Paul spake of, had their faith surely fixed in God, when all the world was against them. They did not only know God to be the Lord, Maker, and Governor of all men in the world; but also they had a special confidence and trust that he was and would be their God, their comforter, aider, helper, maintainer, and defender. This is the Christian faith; which these holy men had, and we also ought to have. And although they were not named Christian men, yet was it a Christian faith that they had: for they looked for all benefits of God the Father, through the merits of his Son jesus Christ, as we now do.

This difference is between them and us, that they looked when Christ should come, and we be in the time when he is come. Therefore, saith Saint Augustine, the time is altered and changed, but not the faith. For we had both one faith in one Christ. The same Holy Ghost also that we have, had they, saith Saint Paul. For as the Holy Ghost doth teach us to trust in God, and to call upon him as our Father, so did he teach them to say, as it is written, Thou, Lord art our Father and Redeemer; and thy Name is without beginning, and everlasting. God gave them then grace to be his children, as he doth us now.

But now, by the coming of our Saviour Christ, we have received more abundantly the Spirit of God in our hearts; whereby we may conceive a greater faith, and a surer trust, than many of them had. But in effect they and we be all one: we have the same faith that they had in God, and they the same that we have. And Saint Paul so much extolleth their faith, because we should not less but rather more give ourselves wholly unto Christ, both in profession and living, now when Christ is come, than the old fathers did before his coming. And by all the declaration of Saint Paul it is evident, that the true, lively, and Christian faith is no dead, vain, or unfruitful thing; but a thing of perfect virtue, of wonderful operation or working, and strength, bringing forth all good motions and good works.

All Holy Scripture agreeably beareth witness, that a true lively faith in Christ doth bring forth good works; and therefore every man must examine and try himself diligently, to know whether he have the same true lively faith in his heart unfeignedly, or not: which he shall know by the fruits thereof. Many that professed the faith of Christ were in this error, that they thought they knew God, and believed in him, when in their life they declared the contrary. Which error Saint John in his First Epistle confuting, writeth in this wise: Hereby we are certified that we know God, if we observe his commandments. He that saith he knoweth God and observeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. And again he saith, Whosoever sinneth doth not see God, nor know him: Let no man deceive you, well-beloved children. And moreover he saith, Hereby we know that we be of the truth, and so we shall persuade our hearts before him. For if our own hearts reprove us, God is above our hearts, and knoweth all things. Well- beloved, if our hearts reprove us not, then have we confidence in God, and shall have of him whatsoever we ask, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that please him.

And yet further he saith, Every man that believeth that Jesus is Christ, is born of God; and we know that whosoever is born of God doth not sin: But he that is begotten of God purgeth himself, and the Devil doth not touch him. And finally he concludeth, and sheweth the cause why he wrote this Epistle, saying, For this cause have I thus written unto you, that you may know that you have everlasting life, which do believe in the Son of God. And in his Third Epistle he confirmeth the whole matter of faith and works in few words, saying, He that doth well is of God, and he that doth evil knoweth not God. And as Saint John saith, that the lively knowledge and faith of God bringeth forth good works; so saith he likewise of hope and charity, that they cannot stand with evil living. Of hope he writeth thus: We know that when God shall appear, we shall be like unto him, for we shall see him even as he is: And whosoever hath this hope in him doth purify himself, like as God is pure. And of charity he saith these words: He that doth keep God's word and commandment, in him is truly the perfect love of God. And again he saith, This is the love of God, that we should keep his commandments.

And Saint John wrote not this as a subtile saying, devised of his own fantasy: but as a most certain and necessary truth,taught unto him by Christ himself, the eternal and infallible Verity; who in many places doth most clearly affirm, that faith, hope, and charity cannot consist, or stand, without good and godly works. Of faith he saith, He that believeth in the Son hath everlasting life; but he that believeth not in the Son shall not see that life, but the wrath of God remaineth upon him. And the same he confirmeth with a double oath, saying, Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth in me hath everlasting life. Now forasmuch as he that believeth in Christ hath everlasting life, it must needs consequently follow, that he that hath this faith must have also good works, and be studious to observe God's commandments obediently. For to them that have evil works, and lead their life in disobedience and transgression, or breaking of God's commandments, without repentance, pertaineth not everlasting life, but everlasting death, as Christ himself saith: They that do well shall go into life eternal; but they that do evil shall go into everlasting fire. And again he saith, I am the first letter and the last, the beginning and the ending: To him that is athirst, I will give of the well of the water of life freely; He that hath the victory shall have all things, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son; but they that be fearful, mistrusting God, and lacking faith, they that be cursed people, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

And as Christ undoubtedly affirmeth, that true faith bringeth forth good works, so doth he say likewise of charity, Whosoever hath my commandments, and keepeth them, that is he that loveth me. And after he saith, He that loveth me will keep my word, and he that loveth me not keepeth not my words. And as the love of God is tried by good works, so is the fear of God also; as the Wise Man saith, The dread of God putteth away sin. And also he saith, He that feareth God will do good works.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Another belated sermon post

Trinity 18 notes back here, so as not to interfere with recent posts by others.

Trinity 20 Sermon Notes

“But they made light of it”


Note the abundance and generosity of what was offered in today’s Gospel. See, I have prepared my dinner;  my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”1 This is an analogy of the greatness and glory of God’s offer to us. What is the offer? An eternal feast on Christ who is our “food”, our life source: here and now in the sacrament we physically eat, in the next life without a veil, as we see him face to face and are brought into an even deeper spiritual union. And it really is a feast. It is to be enjoyed.

And so, in this story the foolishness of those first invited is that they would prefer to go about their daily grind than be treated with honour and have a huge party. They “went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business.” The irony of this is meant to remind Jesus’ listeners of how self-destructive, how irrational is the behaviour of those who reject the invitation -- and how this is just like those who reject God, who wants us to be happy!

The Gospel really is Good News. It is not merely that God saves or rescues us from a nasty situation. He will take us to bliss and true fulfilment as human beings.

“But they made light of it”. Jesus is first referring to the Jewish leaders who were rejecting him, the upper class people who would have been the first invited to any Royal wedding. But the picture portrayed of carelessness (even about one’s own best interests) and cruelty (shooting the messenger, so to speak), applies to many people throughout history. You see, when I said before that God rescues us from a nasty situation, that nasty situation is us. Mankind is sunk in his own muck, trapped by pride and hate and lust, and so used to his darkness that he can not be bothered reaching for the light. That is why humans are so often either dead to the astonishing offer of the Gospel, or angered by it. No enlightened self-interest here!

While it is true that the Christian life is not just one long self-indulgent party, Jesus in this parable rightly emphasises the enormous good God has planned for us. After all, as St Paul says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18). And there is much happiness and consolation on this side of the grave as well, of course.

And yet, just when we think the parable is over, as the King now opens the wonderful invitation to everybody and they flood into the banqueting hall, Jesus introduces the sting in the tail. Yes, God is calling all to Him to partake of his bounty, and many enter. But these include “bad and good”. Not all enter in the right spirit. Perhaps they are determined to eat all they can, even if it means others miss out. Perhaps they are there to mock, begin an argument or bignote themselves. Whatever the case, some will answer the call that still despise the King who gave it. That is why trouble comes when the King returns. And this, of course represents the Judgement at Christ's return.

Not to have worn a wedding garment showed the man singled out also “made light of” the invitation, despite accepting it. He couldn’t even be bothered dressing properly. So, this man represents those who are careless and unrighteous within the Church.

What does the Wedding Garment itself represent altogether, considered positively? The symbol of clothing is much used in the New Testament, and has a corresponding richness of inter-related meanings.

The first thing to understand about the garment of this parable is that, since there was no opportunity for those pulled off the streets to go home and properly dress for the feast, they would have been given the Wedding Garment at the door, as was often done back then according to a number of scholars. That is why there was no excuse for the man without one. (Way back in Genesis [45:22] we see Joseph making sure his brothers have special festal garments, and this may have been in part because they would now be guests of Pharaoh at times.) So, the Wedding Garment is a gift of the King and thus represents a gift from God.

But what is this gift, precisely? How are we “clothed” by God, that we might enter the banqueting hall legitimately? St Paul effectively answers this question in Galatians 3:27 and Colossians 3:10. “[A]s many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” … “[You] have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him that created him.” We receive the Garment by baptism, which sacramentally brings us into the Church, and it consists of the gift of a new nature, Christ imprinting his own image, so to speak, on us. (This is where the custom of the baptised being clothed in a white robe comes from.) Note that this putting on or clothing is written of in the past tense, as already accomplished. Revelation 7:14 refers to Christians as having washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, that is, in Christ's blood. This means that the perfection of the freely-given Garment is based on the forgiveness of sins through the Cross, which we receive by faith as well as by baptism, for we are told of Christ that “ God [has] set [him] forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith" [Romans 3:25]. Our Garment is the robe of salvation. It truly is a festal robe, a robe of rejoicing [cp. Luke 15:21f]. We receive it through the reception of Christ in baptism, and through trust in Him and His redemptive work for us, which rescues us from sin and death.

However, the Scriptures have another side to their teaching about the Garment. In Revelation 16:15 Jesus says: “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” The Garment must be kept by the wearer, who does this by being always prepared spiritually, ready for death or Christ's return [cp. 14:12-13]. And, how, specifically, do we maintain the spotless Garment of baptismal grace? St Paul helps us here by teaching about putting on the same Garment in the present-tense. In Ephesians 4:24 he says to “put on the new man,which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness.” He immediately follows this up with a “therefore” and a list of instructions. These can be summarised as repentance from sin with amendment of life as well as commitment to good works, acts of mercy and kindness. In other words, to put on, or keep on, the Garment, we perpetually turn from sin and towards love. This is further emphasised in Colossians 3:12-14, where St Paul tells Christians to “[p]ut on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved,” compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness and the epitome of them all, love. Note that this instruction begins with the reminder that they are already chosen and loved by God. So, none of this means we create or earn the Garment, for we have already been told that God created it as a gift, a gift woven on the beams of the Cross, and that all we can do is put it on and keep it on. Nevertheless, for those who have been baptised and pretend to themselves that this and nothing more is sufficient, both Scripture and the Church warn that penitent faith and love must also dwell and abide with those who have reached the age of reason, or else they risk the same fate as the man in this parable. And one of Revelation's mentions of the Wedding Garment says it consists of the good works of the saints [19:8]. This would seem to contradict its previous affirmations that the Garment is a gift [6:11] dependent on forgiveness [7:14], until one realises that, according to Scripture, all our service is acceptable only through the Cross, and all our works are themselves gifts [Hebrews 13:15-16, Philippians 2:13]. As St Augustine said, “Our merits are God's gifts”.

Is there anything else to say about the Garment, this clothing with Christ and his grace? Yes. St Paul also tells us to put on the Armour of God, which he equates to faith, hope and love, our attachment to truth, God's word, and the gospel, and knowledge of salvation and righteousness in heart and mind [see Ephesians 6:13-17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8]. All of which is summed up by the concept of living or active faith in Christ Crucified [cp. Galatians 5:6, James 2:17-26]. This clearly is no different to the robe we have been speaking of. So, the Wedding Garment, the baptismal robe, is spiritual protection as well. It has power as well as beauty. It is through that power we are enabled to keep ourselves so clothed.

As we soak in this imagery, let us attend to both the warning and the promise of the Parable, and endeavour to remain clothed with that glorious apparel of salvation, in order to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah [61:3-4]: that God may “give unto [us] beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that [we] might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. And [we] shall build the old wastes, [we] shall raise up the former desolations, and [we] shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.” We are called upon to rejoice and rebuild! Then may we say with the same prophet: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” For it is our own spiritual wedding to which we are being invited, as the Body and Bride of Christ [Ephesians 5:21-32], cleansed by Him, united to Him, loved by Him, and so spreading that love to others. +

1All Biblical quotations are either from the KJV or the The New King James Version. 1996, c1982 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Short Declaration of the True, Lively, and Christian Faith

The Sermon of faith Part I
From The Homilies

The first coming unto God, good Christian people, is through faith, whereby, as it is declared in the last Sermon, we be justified before God. And lest any man should be deceived, for lack of right understanding thereof, it is diligently to be noted, that faith is taken in the Scripture two manner of ways.

There is one faith, which in Scripture is called a dead faith; which bringeth forth no good works, but is idle, barren, and unfruitful. And this faith, by the holy Apostle Saint James, is compared to the faith of devils; which believe God to be true and just, and tremble for fear, yet they do nothing well, but all evil. And such a manner of faith have the wicked and naughty Christian people; which confess God, as Saint Paul saith, in their mouths, but deny him in their deeds; being abominable, and without the right faith, and to all good works reprovable. And this faith is a persuasion and belief in man's heart, whereby he knoweth that there is a God, and agreeth unto all truth of Cod's most holy word, contained in Holy Scripture. So that it consisteth only in believing in the word of God, that it is true. And this is not properly called faith.

But as he that readeth Caesar's Commentaries, believing the same to be true, hath thereby a knowledge of Caesar's life and notable acts, because he believeth the history of Caesar, yet it is not property said, that he believeth in Caesar, of whom he looketh for no help nor benefit: Even so, he that believeth that all that is spoken of God in the Bible is true, and yet liveth so ungodlily, that he cannot look to enjoy the promises and benefits of God; although it may be said that such a man hath a faith and belief to the words of God; yet it is not properly said that he believeth in God, or hath such a faith and trust in God, whereby he may surely look for grace, mercy, and everlasting life at God's hand, but rather for indignation and punishment, according to the merits of his wicked life. For, as it is written in a book intituled to be of Didymus Alexandrinus, "Forasmuch as faith without works is dead, it is not now faith, as a dead man is not a man. This dead faith, therefore, is not that sure and substantial faith which saveth sinners.

Another faith there is in Scripture, which is not, as the foresaid faith, idle, unfruitful, and dead, but worketh by charity, as Saint Paul declareth, Galatians v.; which as the other vain faith is called a dead faith, so this may be called a quick or lively faith. And this is not only the common belief of the Articles of our faith; but it is also a true trust and confidence of the mercy of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and a steadfast hope of all good things to be received at God's hand: and that, although we, through infirmity, or temptation of our ghostly enemy, do fall from him by sin; yet, if we return again unto him by true repentance, that he will forgive and forget our offences for his Son's sake, our Saviour Jesus Christ, and will make us inheritors with him of his everlasting kingdom: and that in the mean time, until that kingdom come, he will be our protector and defender in all perils and dangers, whatsoever do change: and that, though sometime he doth send us sharp adversity, yet that evermore he will be a loving Father unto us; correcting us for our sin, but not withdrawing his mercy finally from us, if we trust in him, and commit ourselves wholly unto him, hang only upon him, and call upon him, ready to obey and serve him.

This is the true, lively, and unfeigned Christian faith, and is not in the mouth and outward profession only, but it liveth, and stirreth inwardly in the heart. And this faith is not without hope and trust in God; nor without the love of God and of our neighbours; nor without the fear of God; nor without the desire to hear God's word, and to follow the same in eschewing evil, and doing gladly all good works. This faith, as Saint Paul describeth it, is the sure ground and foundation of the benefits which we ought to look for, and trust to receive of God; a certificate and sure looking for them, although they yet sensibly appear not unto us. And after he saith, He that cometh to God must believe, both that he is, and that he is a merciful rewarder of well-doers. And nothing cornmendeth good men unto God so much as this assured faith and trust in him.

Of this faith three things are specially to be noted. First, that this faith doth not lie dead in the heart, but is lively and fruitful in bringing forth good works. Secondly, that without it can no good works be done, that shall be acceptable and pleasant to God: Thirdly, what manner of good works they be that this faith doth bring forth.

For the first. As the light cannot be hid, but will shew forth itself at one place or other; so a true faith cannot be kept secret, but when occasion is offered, it will break out and shew itself by good works. And as the living body of a man ever exerciseth such things as belong to a natural and living body, for nourishment and preservation of the same, as it hath need, opportunity, and occasion; even so the soul, that hath a lively faith in it, will be doing always some good work, which shall declare that it is living, and will not be unoccupied. Therefore, when men hear in the Scriptures so high commendations of faith, that it maketh us to please God, to live with God, and to be the children of God; if then they fancy that they be set at liberty from doing all good works, and may live as they list, they trifle with God, and deceive themselves. And it is a manifest token that they be far from having the true and lively faith, and also far from knowledge what true faith meaneth.

For the very sure and lively Christian faith is, not only to believe all things of God which are contained in Holy Scripture; but also is an earnest trust and confidence in God, that he doth regard us, and that he is careful over us, as the father is over the child whom he doth love; and that he will be merciful unto us for his only Son's sake; and that we have our Saviour Christ our perpetual Advocate, and Priest; in whose only merits, oblation, and suffering we do trust that our offences be continually washed and purged, whensoever we, repenting truly, do return to him with our whole heart, stedfastly determining with ourselves, through his grace, to obey and serve him in keeping his commandments, and never to turn back again to sin. Such is the true faith that the Scripture doth so much commend; the which, when it seeth and considereth what God hath done for us, is also moved, through continual assistance of the Spirit of God, to serve and please him, to keep his favour, to fear his displeasure, to continue his obedient children, shewing thankfulness again by observing or keeping his commandments; and that freely, for true love chiefly, and not for dread of punishment, or love of temporal reward; considering how clearly, without our deservings, we have received his mercy and pardon freely.

This true faith will shew forth itself, and cannot long be idle; for as it is written, The just man doth live by his faith. He neither sleepeth, nor is idle, when he should wake, and be well occupied. And Cod by his Prophet Jeremy saith, that he is a happy and blessed man, which hath faith and confidence in God. For he is like a tree set by the water-side, that spreadeth his roots abroad towards the moisture, and feareth not heat when it cometh; his leaf will be green, and will not cease to bring forth his fruit; even so, faithful men, putting away all fear of adversity, will shew forth the fruit of their good works, as occasion is offered to do them.