Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Faithful and just to forgive

In this season of Lent the opening sentences of Evening Prayer include words from the First Epistle of St. John (1:8,9):

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful (πιστός  pistos) and just (δίκαιος dikaios) to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We might think that it would have made better sense to say something like “He is merciful and compassionate to forgive…” Of course, such would be quite true. But, the Apostle John, the Beloved Disciple, chose to say “faithful and just to forgive.” This leads us to two very important questions that require an answer.

The first question is, “faithful” to what or to whom?” The answer might truly astonish us, if we have never considered before the full implications of words by Saint Paul, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”1 God is faithful to God, God is faithful to Man, and God is faithful to His own promise.

That God is faithful to God means that God the Father is faithful to God the Son, which is ultimately the true meaning of God being faithful to Man and to His own promise. For the Man Christ Jesus is God the Son, the only Mediator between God and man; and he is the Mediator of the New Covenant.

Comparing the ministry of Jesus Christ to that of Moses, the writer to the Hebrews says, “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.”2 The people of the Covenant God made with Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai, were promised possession of the Land and peace therein, as long as they lived by the words of the Law. But, about the better promises of the better covenant, the writer to the Hebrews goes on to quote the words of the Prophet Jeremiah.

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”3

Those last words of that long list of promises, that God will forgive the iniquity of His people and remember their sin no more, belong to all who have been justified by the faith of Abraham, that is all who believe in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.4 This promise is made by the hand of the One Mediator between God and men. It is a promise to us through the Son, and therefore a transaction between God the Father and God the Son, enacted within the people of the Church by the Holy Spirit. It is not the result of a human idea, and not the result of our own pleading. God has promised God, and God is therefore faithful to God, to Man and to His word.
We need not fear that God will not be in a mood to forgive. We need not fear that He will forget or change His mind. We need only fear unbelief and the resulting failure to repent at the preaching of His holy word. Many people insist that no one, not even a saint, should have confidence in his own salvation. That has become conventional wisdom for many. But, to those who come with hearty repentance and true faith, even faith as small as a grain of mustard seed, the Gospel declares the very opposite of the conventional wisdom. To doubt this is to think that God may prove unfaithful. To doubt this is to deny His revelation, and to call Him a liar.
The second question is how can God be just to forgive? Does not the mention of justice suggest the very opposite? If God is perfectly just, how can any of us expect Him to forgive rather than to punish? We have earned the sentence of eternal death by our sin. But, God is, as St. John teaches us, “just to forgive us our sins.” This brings us to those powerful words that John would go on to write.

“If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”5

The word “propitiation” and the word “atonement” have fallen into disfavor among many. Some people insist that we paint an ugly picture of God if we so much as dare to associate the cross of Jesus Christ with the subject of justice. If Christ is the victim (though also quite clearly the Priest as well as the willing victim) then God becomes too concerned with “forensic” guilt and righteousness, they think.
Never mind the obvious expression of love, that the Lawgiver pays the penalty Himself, that the High priest offers up His own blood, that God Himself becomes the one Brother who can pay to God a ransom to redeem our souls, and that He did so.6 Never mind the fact that Jesus tells us that this is because “God so loved the world.”7 Never mind that Saint Paul called this death of Christ for our sins the one great act by which God commends his love for us.8 Never mind the love of God that is revealed in the cross of Christ; see the whole idea of sacrifice, despite its necessary place in Biblical revelation, as ugly. Turn beauty into horror and make love itself appear to be total severity. But, how sad for everyone who falls for the lie, and who thereby rejects a necessary part of the Gospel.
Like it or not, God cannot be holy if he is not righteous, and He cannot be righteous if He is not just. Like it or not, the sacrificial system revealed in the Law is the one great type and shadow of the true offering by Christ of His own blood on the altar of the cross. Like it or not, the language of that sacrificial system is the language of the Suffering Servant passage9 upon which the New Testament revelation of Christ’s once for all death is based

When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

The Law was not only the religious and liturgical Law. It was the whole Law given to the nation of Israel. By that Law all things were decided and judged between a man and his neighbor, and so were all things we call today “forensic.” The Laws against murder and theft are contained in the first ten commandments of that Law, as are the regulations about temple worship. Justice, as well as prayer, is very much a part of the whole Torah revealed by God and mediated by Moses. And, forgiveness of sin is very much a part of the better covenant mediated by the One Mediator, the One Who said, “This cup is the New Covenant in My blood.”  

Therefore, God is just to forgive, as Paul tells us:

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”10

Because of Christ’s offering of Himself as the Atonement and Propitiation for our sins, God is just to forgive; He can be the justifier of repentant sinners and yet remain just. This means that we can be forgiven without losing sight of God’s own integrity, His own justice, righteousness and holiness. If we could be forgiven without the cross, we would lose sight of the Holy God altogether, and we could never be moved toward sanctification. We would not be taught by God’s mercy to grow in charity, and we would not care about acquiring virtues. But, God has forgiven us in such a way that knowing His perfect goodness remains the true goal of our faith. Therefore, we may be forgiven and also changed within to become holy as He is holy.11
Therefore, John has taught us more than a mouthful by declaring that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1.     I Tim. 2: 5
2.     Heb. 8:6
3.     Jer. 31:31-34
4.     Rom. 4, Gal. 3:6-9
5.     I John 1:10-2:2
6.     Psalm 49:6-8
7.     John 3:16
8.     Rom. 5:8
9.     Isaiah 52:13-53:12
10.            Rom. 3:26
11.            Lev. 19:2


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Third Sunday in Lent

Eph. 5:1-14, Luke 11:14-28

He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.

These words of Jesus are the most essential part of today’s readings. Both the Epistle and the Gospel readings appointed for today are summed up in these words. Both of the readings are very much about spiritual warfare. Saint Paul writes to remind us of God’s moral laws, the difference between light and darkness, and that we must live in the light and walk in the Spirit. Jesus spoke about the very real activity of a defeated enemy, but one who is allowed to operate for yet a while longer. At the center are these radical words:

He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.

That is what it all boils down to. That is where it all begins and ends.
          We hear a lot about things that simply do not matter compared to this. If the things we do hear about and think about really stem from the radical commitment to Christ to which he calls us in these words, and lead back to it, then they have a serious claim to our consideration. Otherwise, we need to adjust our priorities.
Christian people may live their faith in Roman Catholic terms, Eastern Orthodox terms, Lutheran terms, Calvinist terms, Baptist terms, etc. For me, the Anglican Catholic Church offers the best way I know of to be committed to the Lord Jesus Christ. It cannot be less than that. I am not here because of anything less than my belief that it is here that I find the best way to be committed to the Lord Himself. For others, it should be no less true.
          Some lay members of the Roman Catholic Church (if you will indulge me for a moment), including my in-laws, have a habit of speaking that really bothers me. Even when they know you are a Christian, they ask, “what religion are you?” They mean what denomination or affiliation. First and foremost, I am a Christian as they also are. Furthermore, not only is that my religion; it is my life. But, among the world’s religions, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and so on, I am a Christian.
          Now, if my commitment is first and foremost to being whatever my family is, whatever my parents and grandparents have been, whatever my ethnicity tends to favor, etc., then today’s readings are practically meaningless. The reality of spiritual warfare and the call to walk in the light as God’s children, is not some formal matter of family heritage and whatever club that places me in. It is not about external things either.
The western culture of today has lost all sight of morality. Many parents today, excluding those present, do not take their children to church. They do not teach them right from wrong by the eternal and unchanging standards of God’s commandments. They do not prepare them for life with the strength and tools it takes to live by the true and unchanging code of genuine morality: The commandments of God. But, is it any better to raise children in a church that never teaches them to follow Christ, or that treats Christian faith as nothing more than merely a social affair?
Forty percent of American children are born out of wedlock, or so reported the Washington Times in July 2009. The whole notion that children should be taught to wait until marriage is laughed at and scorned. A clergyman who makes any mention of God’s moral laws in a sermon might have to contend with the so-called faithful in his own congregation, as I found out years ago in Arizona. Because the times have changed, we are supposed to assume that God Almighty, who has revealed that He never changes, has nonetheless changed with the times. We are supposed to just accept things the way they are.
          I am reminded of other words by St. Paul:

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” (II Tim. 3:1-5)

A form of godliness that denies the power of its own message and grace, that denies the reality of the power that God imparts by grace, may be somebody’s idea of a religion, or of a church. It may include the best architecture, the most impressive people by worldly standards, good music, fine art, and all those other things. In fact, that is exactly the case in many a church that has turned its back on God.
But, the Scriptures we read today call us to overcome a very real spiritual enemy, a defeated but active foe who has power only to the extent that we believe his lies. For without deception, the devil has no power. The Scriptures we read also call us to overcome the enemy within, the fallen nature that is inclined toward sin, that sympathizes with all that is deadly and destructive. A half-hearted commitment based on one’s own idea of nice religion is not going to provide any genuine motive for engaging in that battle.
For Anglicans, the perfect church according to taste, whether that means just high enough, just low enough, or not too much of either, needs to become a lower priority than it often proves to be (and I am not talking about compromising theological principles, but about less emphasis on personal taste). The simple fact is, right now we need each other’s faith in an ongoing battle to do away with every good thing we have, above all, the call to gather with Christ.

“And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”

Jesus did not respond this way to the woman as a reproof, and certainly not to dishonor His mother whom she had blessed. He was, rather, drawing the attention from things of this earth to God. He is calling us to “hear the word of God and keep it.”

Now, in the Gospel we preach, God has revealed the commitment He has to us. Jesus bore the cross of suffering and death, and with His own blood redeemed us to God, buying us back from sin and death. The risen Christ commands our commitment both as the God who formed us from the dust of the earth, and as the perfect Man who died for us. As God the Word He commands your commitment by His eternal and infinite power. As the perfect Man, He appeals to your hearts to return the commitment He has demonstrated. As your Creator He requires your commitment by right. As your Redeemer He has purchased it at great cost.

Unless we gather with Christ Himself, the words of St. Paul that urge us to walk as children of God, to live holy lives and to avoid the occasion of sin, might come across as boring clichés. They would fall flat without any power to convict the heart. They would be no more compelling than the saying of Mammy Yokum: “Good is better than bad because it’s nicer.” Who needs it?  Unless we gather with Christ Himself, all His talk about spiritual warfare and driving out the power of evil becomes meaningless to us. For God delivers us from our enemies; but, He does not deliver us from our friends. If we make friends with evil, we will find ourselves destroyed by it.

Walk as children of light: (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”

St. Paul’s words fall flat unless we are motivated by genuine faith and a radical commitment to the Lord Himself. Otherwise, they are just rules; “and rules” we like to tell ourselves, “are meant to be broken.” But, Paul is not writing this to people who lack the motivation of true faith. It is more than rules for the sake of rules. It is instruction on how to live for those who really are committed to Christ, and who want to know how to live out that commitment.

And, Christ’s words that instruct us to clutter our lives with the glorious clutter of true faith (not having our houses “swept and garnished” for the comfort of unclean spirits), above all to “hear the word of God and keep it,” offer only a passing interest to many people. They do not hold the attention of anyone whose form of godliness denies the power thereof.

He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.

Fr Wells' Bulletin Inserts


Concerning the Epistle:

In today's Epistle St Paul is exhorting us to a distinct lifestyle and moral standard based on the life, but even more on the death, of Jesus Christ. The final verse of Ephesians 4, just before the Prayer Book selection breaks in, admonishes us, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted,m forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." That free and total pardon is grounded on the event of the Cross where Jesus died for us.

In Eph. 5:2, in our reading, Paul tells us that "Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour." Because the term "sacrifice" occurs so frequently in our Prayer Book (three times in the Prayer of Consecration), it seems strange that Paul hardly ever used this word to describe our Saviour's death. The Epistle to the Hebrews, which Paul did not write, is where the themes of sacrifice and priesthood are explored in great depth.

For those present on Calvary on the afternoon when our dear Lord was crucified, it hardly looked like a liturgical event. Someone has written that He did not die on an Altar between two candles but on a garbage dump between two thieves. The execution of Jesus bore little resemblance to the elaborate ceremonies which were going on in the temple, in which lambs and bulls were slaughtered and their roasted flesh distributed for reverent ritual consumption. Yes, there were priests present on Calvary, not to offer sacrifice but just to make sure that Pilate did not change his mind.

Perhaps it was Paul who was the first to see the grim and cruel judicial murder of "this innocent man" (Pilate's words) as a sacrifice offered to God to satisfy the Divine justice and reconcile us to God. We recall Paul's outburst, "Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast." This is a powerful aspect of the Gospel which we will soon explore again in Passiontide and Holy Week.

But Paul's point here in Ephesians 5 is that the death of Christ is the ultimate demonstration of his love for us. He loved us not because we deserved his love; we deserved the very opposite. "My son is love unknown, my Saviour's love for me; love to the loveless shown, that we might lovely be." The love of Christ for sinners, for prodigal sons, for faithless disciples, is a love we have no words to describe. The hymn-writers keep using the word, "amazing."

That amazing, self-sacrificing love, demonstrated on Calvary, was exactly the pattern for the life-style and moral standard Paul urges upon us. "Be ye therefore followers of God; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us."

The Christian loves those who do not and who perhaps cannot love him in return. That painful love is the love exhibited on the Cross.

Concerning the Gospel:

In the Gospel readings appointed for Lent I, III, and V we have the repeated theme of our Lord's conflict with the powers of evil. This is strikingly different from the more typical Lenten emphasis on Jesus as the humble and submissive Lamb of God. On at least three of the six Sundays in Lent, our Saviour is presented as God's Warrior, the King of glory, mighty in battle. It is not for nothing that He was called “the Son of David.”

On Lent I we saw Him in the wilderness, in confrontation with Satan the tempter. In His threefold resistance Jesus scored a decisive victory against Evil, reversing Satan's victory over Adam and Eve. On Lent V we will see Jesus in another confrontation, with His unbelieving fellow-Jews, whom He declares not to be “children of Abraham,” but actually “the seed of the serpent” with the blistering words, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires.” In today's Gospel, we have a striking announcement of victory. “If I by the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” Here our Lord is proclaiming a new regime. The old dominion of Satan and the forces of hell is being over- turned; the reign of God in His creation is being re-asserted. Satan, we are informed, is the “strong man armed,” but Jesus is the One Stronger than he, who strips him of “his armor and all wherein he trusted.”

Of the numerous temptations with which Satan attempted to destroy Jesus, possibly the most persistent was the temptation of setting up the Kingdom of God through a secular or even political strategy. In John 6, from which next Sunday's Gospel is taken, we hear of the attempt, mind-boggling to us, of the multitude who ate their fill of earthly food to take Jesus by force and make Him king against His will. The same temptation comes to us as well—to make the church successful and the Gospel popular through secular marketing strategies.

The real and stupendous combat between Jesus and Satan was no ordinary conflict. It was a war which had its final battle on the Cross. There, at Calvary, was the final show-down between obedience and disobedience, self-sacrifice and self-assertion, faith and fear, love and hate. We know the outcome, which we will celebrate on Easter Day.

“O love of God! O sin of man!
In this dread act your strength is tried;
And victory remains with love;
For thou, our Lord, art crucified.”

As we come to the mid-point of our Lenten observance, let us remember that we have a victorious Lord, whose struggle was real, who won a real fight.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Annunciation of the blessed Virgin Mary; March 25th

For a sermon on the meaning of this day, click the icon below.


Icon: "The Praying Mother of God" of Yaroslavl.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles

Article VIII

Of the Three Creeds

The three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius' Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed; for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.

De Tribus Symbolis

Symbola tria, Nicaenum, Athanasii, et quod vulgo Apostolorum appellatur omnino recipienda sunt et credenda; Scripturarum testimoniis probari possunt.

(Composed in 1552 by the English Reformers)

Fr. Robert Hart

Before getting into the meat of this Article, it is necessary to discuss the final few words as they relate to the present day controversies about the nature of Anglicanism. The simple straightforward words, “for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture,” should present no problem to anyone who understands the Catholic Tradition of the Universal Church.  Unfortunately, however, we live in a time when people react to those words because they have been given misinformation in the place of education, and wrongfully imagine some great dichotomy between Scripture and Tradition.
          In 1552 that apparent dichotomy was unheard of. The English Reformers made no new statement by writing these words, and certainly created no innovation. The popular notion, widely assumed in our time, that they were rejecting the Catholic Tradition in favor of a new doctrine of sola scriptura, as if it had been invented in the sixteenth century, has already been corrected in a previous chapter of this series that dealt with Article VI. In short, there was nothing revolutionary, innovative or rebellious in their words.
          It is correct and accurate, therefore, to point out what it is that critics of the English Reformers are actually saying when they make their objection: They are really saying, if they would think about it, that they do not believe that the Catholic Tradition of the Universal Church is Scriptural.
Such a claim runs counter to the official beliefs of all Catholic churches, contradicting the stated beliefs not only of Anglicans, but of the Papal Communion of the Church of Rome, and the Catholic churches called Orthodox. The words that close Article VIII are echoed in recent Vatican documents, such as Dominus Iesus (released under the Papal imprimatur of Pope John-Paul II in 2000), that says very simply about the Scriptures, “These books have God as their Author.” We, as orthodox Anglicans, have our respective disagreements with Rome and Orthodoxy (as they do with each other). But, none of our communions (in our case, Continuing Anglicans of the Concordat churches) would argue that the words of the Creeds ought to believed due to some inherent authority of their own, or that they presented new doctrines that “developed” by some evident and discernable process we may call authoritative.
          It may seem like a clever argument to amateur theologians, especially those who are champion jousters on the internet, to declare that the closing words of Article VIII create a separation from the Catholic Tradition. It may seem clever to those who imagine the existence of some Canon of the Tradition. Like the mysterious “Q” document, however, such a canon tends to be arbitrary, often colored by subjective tastes or misinformation. The real Canon, properly called the Canon, is the Scripture. On that the English Reformers wrote in perfect accord with the Catholic Tradition of the Universal Church, and with the mind of the most ancient catholic bishops and doctors who met at Nicea in 325 AD and in Constantinople in 381 AD.
          Indeed, if any extra Biblical formula of doctrine may be called a canon of the Tradition, it is the Nicene Creed (or to be more exact, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed). But, is it really extra Biblical? Granted, the Creed itself is not in the Bible; but, it is a summary of the Doctrines of the Trinity and of the Incarnation, recalling the facts of our salvation history and of our future assurances as promised by God. Everything in it comes from the Bible, and all of the arguments made in Nicea (325) were drawn from the Bible. The final edited version of the Creed, as made in Constantinople (381 AD), was simply a practical way of making the Creed available for adaptation to liturgy and for use in teaching, as the purpose was now one of teaching the people rather than one of silencing heresy (of course, I am foreshadowing points we will make below in this chapter).
          St. Athanasius (circa 293-373), who eventually became the Archbishop of Alexandria, was a deacon at the Council of Nicea. He served as a chief apologist for the orthodox doctrine against the heresy of Arius. St. Athanasius made his arguments from Scripture, in fact he made them ex scriptura sola, because Scripture was the only available source of direct Apostolic teaching. The records of the Council make these things certain: It was not some thing called “the Petrine chrism” of the as yet unknown concept of “papal infallibility” (a new “dogma” as late as 1870 AD), nor was it some “Development of Doctrine” based simply on consensus in the Council. It was the arguments drawn from Scripture that won the day.
          The balance is found in this simple fact: The Church understood the meaning of Scripture before the Council; the heresy of Arius clashed with Tradition, that is, with the doctrine of the Church that had been taught, after the deaths of the Apostles, from the Scriptures within the body of doctrine that was handed down.  But, it is equally true that the heresy of Arius clashed with the body of doctrine that was handed down within the Scriptures.
So, as we noted in our chapter on Article VI, those who see a dichotomy between Scripture and Tradition simply do not understand the authentic Catholic Tradition of the Universal Church. The words that close Article VIII were not innovative, revolutionary or contrary to Catholic Tradition. If they may be called Protestant words, then it is in accord with the authentically Anglican conviction that true Reformation restored Catholic Faith; it did not reject it. Indeed, on what basis other than the Catholic Tradition of the Universal Church could the Church of England have asserted so boldly, and with complete confidence, the closing words? “For they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.” Not merely supported, but proved, to say without doubt.

          The Apostles’ Creed is so-called not because it came from the Apostles in its present form, but because it summarized their doctrine. This most ancient of creeds commonly used today, was drawn from baptism rites, and it was interrogative. That is, it was addressed to the catechumen just before baptism in the form of questions and answers: “Do you believe in God the Father?” The answer was, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” And so on.
          The Creed called Nicene was born in controversy. But, much misinformation is embraced today about the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Partly because of a poorly researched fiction novel called The DaVinci Code (apparently intended to mean the Leonardo Code; for even the title itself is the first indication of historical laziness and error), and partly because of sensational (howbeit financially profitable) works by very bad scholars such as Elaine Pagels, it is wrongly believed by many uneducated people that the Council of Nicea was about Gnosticism, that it was run by Emperor Constantine to fit some agenda of his own (as if he had reason to care deeply about who won a theological debate), and even by many that certain books were removed or “banned” from the Bible. None of these assumptions and popular notions is true; in fact, none of them are even partially accurate.
          Another misconception comes from a school that has, in their own imaginations, elevated Cardinal Newman’s seriously flawed theory of Doctrinal Development into a dogma of the Church (in this case, of Rome). Because the word homoousion  (or homoousios -“of one substance”) was first used in the Council, arguments have been put forward to the effect that the Council taught something new, or that the Doctrine of the Trinity is not clear from the Scriptures, all to argue for their cherished notion from a nineteenth century argument against Protestantism. But, what they really end up supporting is the Arian heresy itself, echoing in their own way the error of modern Arians called “Jehovah’s Witnesses” who teach their people that the Council invented the doctrine of the Trinity. Trying to argue for their favorite version of what they call “Catholicism” they simply argue against the Christian faith altogether.
          Yes, the Council did coin the word homoousion. But, just as the word “Trinity” is a quick way to refer to a doctrine of the Apostles that is revealed very clearly in the Scriptures, though the word is not in the Bible, so too this word. The word homoousion is not in the Bible, but the teaching it speaks of most certainly is.
          Arius was a presbyter in Alexandria who taught that the Son was a created being, not God. Following with that same logic, he taught that the Holy Spirit was merely an impersonal force. His bishop, Archbishop Alexander of Alexandria, was the one who first opposed him. In rebellion against his bishop, Arius continued to teach his heretical doctrine. The bishops of the Church gathered at Nicea not for the purpose of trying to figure out whether or not the Son is equal to the Father or merely a creature, a created and lesser god, but to defend the teaching of the Church against serious error. Arius was not summoned there to help them with a “discernment process.” Instead, in a real way, he was the subject of a heresy trial. The result of the Council was “the Creed called Nicene.” Since the Book of Common Prayer uses this title for the final edited version that was produced decades later, we may be sure it is that version of which the Article speaks. For your benefit, however, let us take a look at both of them together (the translations are modern).

Nicea 325 AD

We believe in one God the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten begotten from the Father, that is from the substance [Gr. ousias, Lat. substantia] of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten [Gr. gennethenta, Lat. natum] not made [Gr. poethenta, Lat. factum], of one substance [Gr. homoousion, Lat. unius substantiae (quod Graeci dicunt homousion)] with the Father, through whom all things were made, both those in heaven and those in earth; for us humans and for our salvation he came down and became incarnate, became human, suffered and rose up on the third day, went up into the heavens, is coming to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit.
  1. And those who say
    1. "there once was when he was not", and "before he was begotten he was not", and that
    2. he came to be from things that were not, or from another hypostasis [Gr. hypostaseos] or substance [Gr. ousias, Lat. substantia], affirming that the Son of God is subject to change or alteration: 
these the catholic and apostolic church anathematises.

Constantinople 381

We believe in one God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and of earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all the ages, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance (Gr. homousion) with the Father, through whom all things were made; for us humans and for our salvation he came down from the heavens and became incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, became human and was crucified on our behalf under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried and rose up on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; and he went up into the heavens and is seated at the Father's right hand; he is coming again with glory to judge the living and the dead; his kingdom will have no end. And in the Spirit, the Holy, the Lordly and life-giving one, proceeding forth from the Father, co-worshipped and co-glorified with Father and Son, the one who spoke through the prophets; in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. We confess one baptism for the forgiving of sins. We look forward to a resurrection of the dead and life in the age to come. Amen.

As is obvious, the Creed of Constantinople as adapted for use in liturgy, with each believer affirming it himself (I believe) is “the Creed called Nicene.” The doctrine is one and the same, but the second version is stated in a completely positive manner, partly because they may have felt some relief from that particular controversy in which the actual Nicene version was written, and partly to make the Creed a tool for instruction to be used locally in the churches.

The Creed as finalized in Constantinople gives a more thorough teaching about the Holy Spirit for the same reason that the Nicene Creed says so much more about the Son than had been said in the Apostle’s Creed. That is, because of heresy the Church was forced to clarify even more precisely what her teaching always had been. Between 325 and 381, the heretical school of the Pneumatamachi (fighters against the Spirit), sometimes called the Macedonians (due to their place of origin) taught that Holy Spirit is not a Person, but merely a force. The most famous writer to oppose them was the Cappadocian Father, Saint Basil. The final Creed called Nicene clarifies for us that the Holy Spirit is fully God, equal to the Father and to the Son, “who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.”

The Creed of Saint Athanasius or Quicunque vult  is named after the saint not because anyone supposed he had written it, but simply in his honor as one who defended the true doctrine of the Trinity. Unlike the Creeds of Nicea and Constantinople, it was written in Latin only. The records of the Ecumenical Councils had been written in both Greek and Latin, including the Creeds. But, this Creed is a product of the western Church.
          The purpose of this creed is one of instruction, particularly on the subject of the Trinity. For example, the creed provides clarification that, although there can be no separation between the Persons of the Godhead, we have been given revelation sufficient to make distinctions between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, not confusing them.
          One objection that is made to this creed has to do with the opening: “Whosoever will be saved : before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith.  Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled : without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.  And the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.”
Taken every literally, this opening seems to make proper theological learning a necessary work one must perform to be saved. Furthermore, such a crass doctrine of salvation by learning rules out the salvation of little children, or of the simple who cannot learn. It seems to be a valid objection on the face of it. In fact, however, the opening of this creed is really about the danger of teaching false doctrines, not different in intended meaning from St. Paul’s words in Galatians 1:8,9:
“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

Nor is it really different in meaning from the words of the Creed written in Nicea in 325 AD, “these [false teachers] the Catholic and Apostolic church anathematizes.

It is also important that the point is about the God we worship, not One we vainly presume to comprehend with our intellect. The creed says, “That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.” This cannot really be different from the words of Jesus in John, the fourth chapter (22-24):

“Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

The fruit of our salvation, even in this life as well as in the world to come, is that we are given revelation sufficient to worship God in truth as he has revealed it, and grace to worship Him in truth because He changes our hearts by His Spirit.

Fr. Laurence Wells

This is the first Article where the version contained in the American Prayer Book differs significantly from that in the English Prayer Book.  Whereas the original named the "Symbola tria," (a feature held in common with Lutheran and Continental Reformed Confessions), the American Book has this article only in a truncated and mangled form, with the Athanasian Symbol purposefully excluded. 

The major point of Article VIII is to keep the doctrinal heritage of the Anglican tradition firmly plugged in to Catholic tradition.  The doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation have already been covered in the first seven Articles.  But Article VIII goes out of the way to insist that these are no new discoveries or sectarian doctrines; we have received these doctrines because we belong to an older and greater tradition.

Therefore we must deplore the surgery on Article VIII which took place in the early American Church as we give thanks for the correction of that crime in the Affirmation of St Louis, which happily affirms the place of the Athanasian Symbol.  But the scar serves to remind us of how close the American Church in its infancy came to even more drastic steps.  In 1785 a trial liturgy, called the "Proposed Book," was set forth which omitted not only the Athanasian Creed but the Nicene Creed as well.  We must thank Bishop Seabury for resisting this book and the English bishops who reviewed the thing for their severe remonstrances.  In the Prayer Book adopted in 1789, the Nicene Creed was salvaged, and for good measure, it was made an option at the Daily Office.  But most of the time it is still just an option even in the Communion Office.  Under the rubric on page 71, a parish church could get by with saying the Nicene Creed only five times a year.  Surely it is a sign of the Holy Ghost residing in the Body of Christ that the Nicene Creed did not go the way of the Decalogue and the Exhortations into virtual desuetude.  The Athanasian Creed, however, was not restored and has become almost unknown to American Anglicans.

Anyone who wants to know the Athanasian Creed better should try to get his hands on a thin book (only 140 pages) by J. N. D. Kelly entitled "The Athanasian Creed."  He shows that the earliest evidence of this Creed is in the writing of Caesarius, who was bishop of Arles, in France, in the first half of the 6th century of the Christian Era.  The least ancient of the Three Creeds, the Athanasian Creed (which is familiarly known from its opening Latin words Quicunque vult)  has its origins well within the Conciliar period. 

What is not so commonly known about the Quincunque is that it clearly asserts the Double Procession of the Holy Spirit, the controversial Filioque.*  In it we find:  "The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding."  This is not the place to explore that thorny issue.  But wherever the authority of the Athanasian Creed is acknowledged, we are (to put it bluntly) stuck with the Filioque.  The evidence seems to be that this clause "leaked" through osmosis from the Athanasian into the version of the Nicene Creed set forth at the Third Council of Toledo in 589.  Whereas the usual narrative holds that this Council altered the Nicene Creed in a high-handed and illegal manner, it might be argued that the Filioque was merely a clarifying gloss borrowed from an equally authoritative Creed. 

Fr Hart has written well of the oblique manner in which this Article (probably without a conscious intention) affirms the final appeal to Scripture.  The verbiage in the original is "firmissimis Scripturarum testimoniis."  The Latin word order is contrived to intensify the superlative "most certain."  We note that in the 16th century, the inerrancy of Scripture was not under debate.  The Articles assume a hierarchy of doctrinal authority.  At the lowest level, the Articles themselves (a contemporary and regional manifesto), next, three classic documents which embody the universal Church's deposit of faith, and finally and supremely, the Word of God written in the Scriptures.
* This subject was covered in the chapter of this series on Article V. 

This concludes Part I, "The Catholic Articles, I-VIII." In the next chapter we begin Part II, "Personal Religion, Articles IX-XVIII."

Monday, March 21, 2011

African bishop defends and supports American "dissenters"

The never ending soap opera of division and strained relations caused by the Archbishop of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), John Hepworth, has resulted in a very open letter from their own Right Reverend Michael Gill, Bishop of Pretoria and Southern Africa. It was posted by David Virtue on VOL. In it, the African bishop writes to support and defend Rt. Rev. Daren Williams, Rt. Rev. Brian Marsh and Rt. Rev. Stephen Strawn (Anglican Church in America, ACA), who together had been the subject of public attack from Abp. Hepworth via certain blogs. These bishops had been attacked for their decision to abide, each one, by his own conscience by refusing the "offer" to join the new "ordinariate" that may (or may not) be established in the U.S. under the terms of Anglicanorum Coetibus

Bishop Gill has called this attack "trial by blog," naming quite specifically the chief offenders among bloggers, and accusing Abp. Hepworth of abusing the opportunity provided by these direct public forums. 

Bp. Gill writes: 

As far as we in the CoB (College of Bishops) are aware, The Messenger Journal remains the official forum to disseminate TAC information. The College of Bishops has never ratified either the Anglo Catholic blog, nor Catholicusanglicanus as an official mouthpiece for the TAC, despite the Primate using both as such from time to time as it has suited him. Much of the "correspondence" addressed to you and ostensibly copied to the TAC College of Bishops, appearing on those blogs, has never arrived in our email inboxes, nor ever been received in hard copy. The so-called recipients would therefore never even know that the letters exist. 

He writes as well that the TAC "Patrimony of the Primate" rule that has been invoked by  Abp. Hepworth lacks the authoritative status attributed to it by Hepworth. 

I am also aware that you all agreed to the "Patrimony of the Primate" proposal from Archbishop Falk and Archbishop Hepworth in your House of Bishops, to function under Bishop Moyer, but the application of this dubious innovation seems to have been seriously divisive. The subsequent foundation of a 'Pro-Diocese' under Bishop Campese in the USA within the Patrimony of the Primate is particularly worrying to me as a fellow TAC Bishop Ordinary, as our TAC Concordat requires that any new Diocese go through the College of Bishops for approval and discussion. 

Here, on The Continuum, we have posted our own criticism of Hepworth's high and heavy handed treatment of Bishops Williams, Marsh and Strawn, and of the potential dangers of the highly divisive, entirely uncatholic and innovative TAC version of "Patrimony of the Primate." All the way back in September we posted defense and support of the three ACA bishops offered by the Chancellor of the Anglican Catholic Church, Original Province (ACC-OP), Rev. Canon John Hollister (his Open Response). I have written about the intrusion into parish unity and the utter chaos that the TAC "Patrimony of the Primate" threatens to unleash, most recently in February.

More Monday recreation

I think it was in 1998 that I composed this, beginning as an improvisation.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Second Sunday in Lent

(I Kings 8: 37-43)

I Thess. 4:1-8 
Matt.15: 21-28

Sadly, in this period of history, some of the clergy have preached a false gospel about another Jesus (II Cor. 11), not the Christ of the Scriptures. They have abused the text from St. Matthew and taught that Jesus was enlightened by this experience, that He overcame his Jewish prejudices, and that he learned to accept others for who they were. Can they really imagine that this Man, who years earlier at the age of twelve knew the truth of His unique relationship with His Father (Luke 2:49), suffered the same foolishness that is common to fallen and sinful men? In fact, their message is blasphemy and heresy. They drag the Lord Jesus down to our level, as if He was from below, as if he was of this world (John 8:23).
Jesus acted and spoke deliberately to this woman, with perfect wisdom and genuine compassion-as always. He knew what he was doing, and had no need of enlightenment. He is the Light. In Him was no darkness then, and in Him is no darkness now. He saw clearly then, and He sees clearly now. It is he Who teaches, and it is we who learn from Him. His words and actions that day were perfect, and we have no reason to presume otherwise.

Something strange to us
Nonetheless, in today’s Gospel we do see something strange to our way of thinking, as modern Westerners long accustomed to thinking of Christianity as universal, perhaps even as democratic in the classic sense, maybe as egalitarian to some degree, or, at the very least, as polite. We see Jesus appear unwilling to help this Gentile woman until she humbly acknowledges that she, not being Jewish, is like a dog asking for scraps that fall from the Israelite table.
           It seems even more strange after the Morning Prayer lesson from I Kings in which Solomon asks God to grant the prayers of the stranger who comes and prays in the Temple, having heard of God’s great Name, that all the world may know that there is only one God. It seems strange when we remember that Jesus had angered the people of His hometown by saying that they would reject Him, but that as Elijah was sent to a Gentile widow, and as Elisha had cured the leper Naaman, from Syria, His own ministry would benefit even the Gentiles who would trust Him.
          The story of Naaman is very dramatic, and a lot like this story. The Syrian General, who had been Israel’s enemy, came to be healed by the prophet Elisha. By the grace of God, he was healed, but not before humbling himself and accepting the one demand that the prophet made; that he wash himself in the Jordan river (and what do we learn from this? Naaman’s mikvah, his cleansing, in the River Jordan signifies that some day the Gentiles would be able to enter into the covenant by baptism). The prophet did not even bother to come meet this very important man, but simply sent a messenger. At first Naaman was angry and started to leave in a huff, but his friends reasoned with him. Like this woman we read of today, he had to humble himself in order to receive a gift from God.
    Of course, Jesus did grant her request, and before He was finished, He commended her for her faith. But why did He put her through it? What point was He making?
The New Covenant and children of Abraham
The point has everything to do with the Covenant, specifically the Covenant that God made with Abraham. Abraham is the father of the people of Israel, which means, as St. Paul would write, that he was the father of all who have faith in the true and Living God, the true God Who is known only by the revelation of Himself. Out of that Covenant came the other Covenants, the Covenant of Sinai, when the Law was given to the people who were freed from slavery in Egypt, and the Covenant of the Kingdom made with David. These grew out of the Covenant that God made with Abram, when he was yet uncircumcised, that is when he was still a Gentile named Abram, and had not yet become Abraham, circumcised and the father of Isaac, and thereby the father of a multitude.
     The last Covenant to grow out of the Covenant of promise to Abraham was the Covenant that Jesus Christ would make, the New Covenant, the B’rit Hadashah, prophesied of by Jeremiah:

"Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they brake, though I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying Know the LORD: For they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith the LORD: For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer. 31: 31-34)."
     In a few minutes we will hear the words of Jesus: "This is My Blood of the New Testament, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin." The disciples at the Last Supper knew what He was referring to, for they knew these words of the prophet Jeremiah about the New Covenant.
    But, before proceeding with what we can say about that, we need to see that the Gentile woman who came to Jesus was not included in the Covenants of God made with Israel. She was, to use the words of Isaiah, from the 57th chapter of his book, one who was "afar off." St. Paul described the situation of the entire Gentile world in these words: "Wherefore remember that ye being in time past Gentiles...at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world..." He concludes, "But now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2: 11-13)."
    Our Lord helped the woman, and granted her prayer, as she was the stranger coming to the One Who was greater than the temple, and was making her prayer of the One true God, the only God in all the earth (I Kings 8:41-43). But, first He made clear the truth, and it was for her to accept it in humility. She was an outsider, and was not requesting something to which she was entitled; she was not one of the children. Understand, that her faith changed this, as faith did for the centurion whose servant was healed. Foretold in that ancient story of Naaman is the truth of what happens when one who is “afar off” has faith. When Jesus commended this woman’s faith, He was not simply granting her request, but acknowledging her as a daughter of Abraham, a Gentile no longer.
    This is lost on many people who cannot understand the words of this woman, when she spoke with humility. Against the warning of St. Paul they "boast against the root" that bears them, that is against the Jewish heritage of the Church by which all Christians are made children of Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ. They presume, they boast, and think that God is a modern egalitarian Who accepts everyone and everything as six of one and half a dozen of the other. We are very comfortable hearing about the New Covenant, and the forgiveness of sins, but what does it all entail? What do we need to be asking and learning?
    Is the New Covenant made with all mankind? We know that there is only one God, and that Jesus would send His disciples on the mission, the true mission of Israel, to be the light of the world, a light to the nations. "Go and make disciples of all nations," He would tell them, after His resurrection, "baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Matt. 28: 19,20) So, it seems that the Covenant is with all mankind equally- right? Wrong.
    Look again at the words that Jeremiah spoke, to which Jesus clearly alluded, by speaking of the New Covenant. Jeremiah said that the New Covenant is with the house of Israel; it is not made with the nations. It is part of the Covenant of Promise made with Abraham. The only people with whom God made the New Covenant are the Israelites, not the Gentiles. If you understand that, you must then begin to understand why the Great Commission is given with these provisions and conditions: The disciples from all nations must be baptized in the Name of God, the Trinitarian Name; and they must be taught to live by all of Christ’s commandments.
    The New Covenant brings with it the Law written on the human heart, the forgiveness of sins, and the knowledge of God. The people who enter into it by baptism, and who have faith in Jesus Christ, are not Gentiles; Christians are not called Gentiles; rather St. Paul says "ye were Gentiles in time past." He writes to the Roman Christians that they have been grafted into the tree of Abraham. He tells the Ephesians and the Corinthians that they were Gentiles (past tense), and that when they used to be Gentiles they were led astray by dumb idols. But, now, in Christ, they have been brought near by the Blood of the Messiah, the Blood of the New Covenant and the forgiveness of sins.
    The Law is written on our hearts, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. We read it and learn it; but more than simply that, it is within us on a deep level of conscience that is unknown to unbelievers. For we know not only the Law of Christ- about which more needs to be said- we know the One Who gives it. We know and love the Lawgiver; we are personally affected by His great act of love when we think of the cross of His Passion. We know what it means that we are bought with a price, that is, His blood. His Spirit is within us, and we have a conscience quick to feel, which we could not have otherwise. This is the meaning of the Epistle reading for this day, St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Thessalonians: "This is the will of God, even your sanctification."
    In Lent we are reminded of this portion of the New Covenant in a special way, not to be forgotten the rest of the year; that the Holy Spirit writes the Law on our hearts, and that we know God in a manner that makes our consciences grieve when we sin against Him; and that convicts our consciences to live in a way that pleases Him. For, having entered into the New Covenant, and having been made a part of Israel by faith, we are given that Law as our guide, we are given the forgiveness of sin, and we know the Lord. The words of Isaiah are true for us: "The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our king, He is our Salvation." (Isaiah 33:22)
    The message of the Church to God’s ancient people of Israel is, "the temple is here, the sacrifice is here, the Messiah Whom we know will come again; this is your heritage as children of Abraham, born to live under the New Covenant." Our message to the whole world, and its many nations which, to this day, worship many false gods, is, "there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; We know Him through Jesus Christ."

And now unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, power and glory henceforth world without end. Amen.

For further study see this also.

Fr Wells' Bulletin Inserts


Concerning the Gospel:

Today's Gospel is echoed in one of our most beloved prayers, the Prayer of Humble Access, with the words “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.” This is derived from the Canaanite woman's humble plea, “Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.”

This Gospel is truly a puzzling passage. Many have stumbled in its interpretation. Some have said that Jesus was having a bad day, treated the woman rudely, but came around when she outwitted him with her clever reply. Others have opined that Jesus shared the prejudices of his Jewish race against Gentiles, but this woman helped him to overcome his narrowness. Really!

We must study the reactions of Jesus to this woman carefully. He moves from (1) utter silence, to (2) a statement of His mission, then to (3) a statement of testing, and finally to (4) a statement of delight and abundant grace. “Great is thy faith! Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

The silence of Jesus reminds us that God is sovereign and acts on His own timetable. The statement of His mission, “but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” reminds us of the great separation and demarcation which runs from “the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman” in Genesis 3 to the final separation of the sheep and the goats at the Last Judgment. And yes, indeed, God truly tests us. No person of faith will claim that God has never tested him. The untested person probably has no faith at all or faith in small degree.

Possibly (and here we cannot be sure) the Gentile woman only knew of Jesus as a wonder-worker, someone who could simply oblige her desires, like the nine lepers who were healed and promptly abandoned Jesus. Her words “thou son of David” surely appear to recognize Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world, but that had to be tested.

The scene changed when the woman expressed her own humility, unworthiness, and utter dependence on Divine grace. The woman has no one else to go to; she has no other option, no other place to look for healing. Jesus is her last resort. Her prayer is the prayer of desperation.

When we learn that we too are just as needy as this woman, having no Saviour but Jesus, and are truly the dogs eating crumbs from God's table, then we too will hear Jesus's own voice speaking to us here and now, “Great is thy faith! Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

Concerning the Epistle:

“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification,” St Paul writes in the passage we read today from I Thessalonians. Paul is well known for his unfolding of the great theme of Justification, God's gracious act in simply declaring sinners to be righteous when we look to Christ as our Saviour. That simple faith unites us to Christ so that His righteousness becomes our righteousness and God accepts us as perfectly righteous in His sight.

But as joyful a message as this is, there is more. The rest of the Good News is continued in the word “sanctification.” Whereas Justification is a judicial decree, declared once for all when the sinner turns to Christ, this is continued in a process which has no end in this lifetime. Paul wrote elsewhere “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Put simply, the Christian is not only a man who believes in Christ, but a person undergoing a process. That process is called sanctification.

Sanctification means becoming holy. In this text in I Thessalonians Paul was thinking of passages in the Old Testament, such as Leviticus 19:2. “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.” That sounds like an impossible command. Jesus did not make matters any easier when He said, “Be ye therefore perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). We know what this word “perfect” means: faultless, without blemish, surpassing all standards of excellence. Paul tells us this is the will of God for us.

At this point we are bound to feel a bit of spiritual frustration and say, “That is too hard. God is asking too much of us.” We can hide behind a mask of false humility and say, “Oh, I know I will never be perfect.” That trite saying all too frequently really means, “I am satisfied with myself exactly as I am; I feel no need to improve.”

God never commands anything He does not give grace to fulfill. When our dear Lord said, “Be ye therefore perfect,” His words were both command and promise. “Be ye perfect” can also mean, “you will be perfect.”

Holiness, sanctification, perfection (these three words are all the same) have been called “the moral result of Christ's atoning work.” They refer to the inward moral rehabilitation, in which sinful hearts slowly become pure hearts, unclean minds become clean minds, impure lives become pure lives. That is God's will for us and His work in us. It has been well said that God loves us enough to accept us as we are, but too much to leave us as we are.