Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Today's wrap up

Hepworth & Rome
I have been sent several news links about Archbishop Hepworth and the RCC. We are told he can go back to them as a layman, which is hogwash. He can go to them as a laicized priest, which is not quite the same thing, but effectively about the same. However, we must pity the members of the Press since they are almost always the last people to know anything, though they "inform" the rest of us: For journalists out there, the word is "laicize" -  just look it up (apologies to Albion Land, one journalist who does know his way around the barn). 

We are told that Abp. Hepworth is sticking to his story about sexual abuse, but that the RCC has investigated itself, and cleared itself of the accusations. Gee, golly, and all that: Who has more credibility? Just flip a coin, and don't bother to see which side comes up. So, we have nothing more to say about it, because it's all a waste of cyberspace.

On to more important things.

SAINT ANDREW'S DAY, November 30,

This brings to mind the theme of Evangelism. In the Epistle for today, Rom. 10: 9ff, we read about the need for sent laborers who preach the Gospel. In the Gospel reading for today (Matt. 4;18f), we see that the first Disciples who would become Apostles, were told by Christ at the time of their calling, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." So, there is an emphasis on preaching the Gospel, which always brings to mind the unchanging and universal truth that Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose the third day and appeared to witnesses, all in fulfillment of Scripture (I Cor. 15:1f).  

The readings for Morning Prayer include John 1:35-42. That passage includes these simple words: "[Andrew] first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, 'We have found the Messias,' which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus." 

Those simple words, "he brought him to Jesus" get to the heart of personal evangelism, and also to the heart of all evangelism and mission. We cannot separate the Man from the message. Jesus Christ did not come as a philosopher or teacher, but as our Salvation, the One Who takes us to the Father. Andrew did not tell Simon about a great message he had heard. He did not mention the teachings of Jesus. Rather, he brought him to Jesus. It is to Jesus that we come, and to Jesus that we bring others.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

First Sunday in Advent

Bible illustration by Alexandre Bida

Romans13:8-13 * Matthew 21:1-13
What a confusing choice for today's Gospel, the same reading we have in the Blessing of the Palms on Palm Sunday, before the first Eucharist. What does this have to do with the main theme of Advent, that we must be prepared for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in glory to judge both the quick and the dead? After all, as everyone should know, it is about our own real preparation to come face to face with God. The season is about the Four Last Things, Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Among these, Heaven and Hell take on powerful significance as the Resurrection to immortality, to live and reign with Christ forever, and the resurrection of those who will go into the lake of fire. As the Lord said: "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."1 In light of these themes, it is not enough to be aware of the joy that awaits those who will enter the blessed state of glorification as the sons of God. We must also be aware of the terror of the Lord so as to persuade men,2 including ourselves, at all times.

Several religious leaders from various churches must have voted, about a century or more ago, to close Hell. Like some prisons, it has perhaps become overcrowded, and so nobody else can go there, even though some people are dying to get in. Why else would it sound so strange to hear it mentioned in a sermon-in church of all places? Maybe Hell has become the sort of topic, like for example, sin; something that fashionable people just do not discuss in church. It's not nice, it's not warm and fuzzy, and it contributes, no doubt, to global warming. The problem is, the ultimate "fire and brimstone" preacher in the Bible is Jesus Christ-no more Mr. Nice Guy to anyone shocked to learn it. Yes, St. John the Baptist has a few words to say about it. St. Paul never mentions it directly, though clearly warning about it indirectly. Some theologians want to blunt the effect of every passage that does mention it. If we are to be serious about the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must face this subject, namely, the danger of being lost forever, going into the outer darkness "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."3 The Greek word for that ultimate Hell is Ge'enna (γε’εννα). It refers to a terrible place mentioned in the Old Testament as a site where children were murdered in sacrifice to Molech, the Valley of Ben-Hinnom. In the First century A.D., this place had become a dump, and trash was burned there day and night. In that dump the worm was kept alive, and fires were always burning. And so, our Lord spoke of it in terms of that final and dreadful verse in the Book of Isaiah: "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh."4 The terror of the Lord that ought to persuade each of us, and with which it is a mercy to persuade others, is that of being thrown away as the garbage.

No one need be thrown away, because God "commandeth all men everywhere to repent."
5 The Gospel command to repent is also a word of hope. It is centered on the grace of God, and the love of God demonstrated and revealed in the cross of Christ. 6 How simple and yet powerful are those words of St. Paul, "Christ died for our sins."7 In that light, we obey the command to repent, and therefore are filled with joy because he gives us the certain hope of eternal life. "Repent, confess, thou shalt be loosed from all."8 This alone gives hope. A false gospel of acceptance and inclusion cannot revive and comfort anyone's conscience. The words of today's Epistle tell us how to live our lives in this world in the fear of God, and also in the grace of God. "The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. "

Why are we given this selection from the Gospels? Why this picture of Christ being welcomed as the Son of David, the king, and then getting off the donkey, going into the temple, and casting out the money changers? We understand why this leads to the Passion, and is read at the start of Holy Week when we bless the palms. We understand that other judgment, that in the cross of Christ it was the Prince of this world who was judged and cast out.
9 When we begin Holy Week it makes sense. What, however, does this have to do with the coming again in glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, to judge the quick and the dead? As an event in history, how do we place some meaning of it in the future? as a recorded past event, how does it find its way into eschatology (the study of the End)?

The simple answer (so obvious once we realize it) is that, in her wisdom, the Church puts before our eyes this picture of our Lord Jesus Christ, from his first coming, that most closely resembles his second coming. Here is the Lord who suddenly comes to his temple and cleanses it. We see the Lord who casts out from the place of that holy presence of the Shekinah, those who have been living unrepentant in sin. The authority of the Lord, to mete out judgment, to evict sinners from his presence, to cleanse, to purge, and to purify, is seen in this Gospel passage. That harder side of the One who was able to forgive and heal with compassion is here made visible. This picture shows the judgment of the Lord; it shows his unique authority as the Word and Son of the Everlasting Father, that power that comes so genuinely from within Himself that all of these men felt compelled to obey his voice, and had no power in themselves to resist his words of eviction from the Holy Place. He had no visible army to carry out his commands, no soldiers to enforce his decree; and yet his power was such that no one could resist, and no one could refuse. Just as He had power to cast out demons so that people would not be tormented any longer, so His word with power casts out the money changers. Yes, this is the best picture we have of the Lord coming again as Judge.

Bible illustration by Gustave Dore
St. Peter wrote: "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"10 If we submit to the work of the Holy Spirit among us, we will experience that gentle judgment that saves us here and now. After all, even though St. Peter makes direct reference to the End, that is the Last Day when Christ comes again, and does so with words to place the fear of God in our hearts, he begins with "the time is come." If the message is about "the end" of those who are removed, thrown into the dump of Ge'enna with its hungry worms and perpetual burnings, what judgment is there that begins now in the house of God? Jesus cast out the works of darkness from the house of God, the temple in Jerusalem, casting out those who had worked that darkness openly and unashamed, and who insulted the holy place no less than the sons of Eli had done long before.11 But, St. Peter urges us with a present hope: "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God." What is this judgment that must begin now? Pray God, let it be for each one of us the very self-examination that aids those who repent to make a good confession of their sins with all of the sincerity of a heart moved by the Holy Spirit.

What are we planning to do here today? What follows every sermon in a Mass? Before I supply the answer, let us recall that other name, that specifically Anglican name that we give to this service: "The Holy Communion." Other names are good too, such as The Divine Liturgy (the Orthodox name), and the Holy Eucharist. But, I like the Anglican name, The Holy Communion. It was first used to make something very clear to the people of the Church of England, which is that the purpose for which Christ instituted this sacrament of His Body and Blood is that it be taken and received. The Catechism tells us that two of the sacraments are generally necessary for salvation, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The purpose of coming here and receiving this Blessed Sacrament is to feed on the Living Bread that comes down from heaven, which if a man eat, he may live forever. Jesus told us that He is the food and drink of eternal life, and to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
12 First we make confession of sin based on the self-examination we should make every time; as St.Paul wrote: "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup."13 It is in that self-examination and the resulting sincere confession, that we prepare for the coming of the Lord right now, that is, His coming to our altar, and then into our very bodies as we eat the food and drink the cup of eternal life-His flesh and blood. If we live always ready for this Sacrament, we will live always ready to meet the Lord face to face.

In today's Gospel passage, we see important elements of His Second Coming, elements that are true to the Person of the Son of God, the everlasting Son of the everlasting Father. He is the only king and savior. He is the judge “Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 14 Judgment will begin at the House of God, until His whole creation is cleansed and purified, made ready for a habitation of His righteousness, a dwelling place of His glory among men. The purpose of a Penitential season is to learn to sharpen and focus our self-examination, the same self-examination that we should do every time we draw near to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. I know that a “feel good” religion is the popular model for success in today’s “spiritual” market; but the only good feeling we should ever trust is that spoken of by the Psalmist: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” 15

To be ready for the last Judgment, we must be willing to let the Holy Ghost shake up our world, we must allow Him to shake up our very selves. Indeed, to prepare for the coming again of Jesus Christ, we must draw near "with hearty repentance and true faith" in order to make a good confession, sincere and resolute of purpose to "walk in newness of life ." Indeed, to prepare for the coming again of Jesus Christ, we need do no more, and no less, than we do when we prepare to receive the Communion of His Body and Blood. 16

1. John 5:28, 29
2. II Corinthians 5:11
3. Mark 9:42-50
4. Isaiah 66:24
5. Acts 17:30
6. Romans 5:8
7. I Corinthians 15:3
8 From Weary of Earth and laden with my sin, Hymn 58 in The Hymnal 1940.
9. John 12:31, 32
10. I Peter 4:17, 18
11. I Samuel 2:12f
12. John 6:26-59
13. I Corinthians 11: 29
4. Matthew. 3:12
15. Psalm 32:1

16. I Corinthians 10:16


The Rev. Canon John Hollister has sent the following:

Thanks to the sharp eyes of Fr. Larry Wells, who spotted on Fr. Anthony Chadwick’s blog, “The English Catholic”, an article which contained the link to the following report from “The Australian”:

Archbishop John Hepworth to return to Catholic fold as Indian, not chief

“by:  Verity Edwards
“From:  The Australian
“November 25, 2011 9:33PM

“ARCHBISHOP John Hepworth will be forced to relinquish his role as the primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion if he is to reconcile with the Catholic Church, after being informed he will only be accepted as a layperson.

“Archbishop Hepworth has been notified by the Catholic Church that his bid to reunify the TAC with Rome has been successful,* but his own case is conditional.”

Downloaded 11/25/2011 from The Australian.

The accompanying information in Fr. Chadwick’s article adds further details, including that Abp. Hepworth was given this notice in an official letter from the Australian [Roman Catholic] Bishops’ Conference that was delivered to him by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne.  Apparently the reason given for this determination is Article 6, §2 of the “Complementary Norms” that are attached to Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, under which the new Anglican Ordinariates are to be organized.  This Section states that former Roman Catholic clergy who left that communion to become Anglicans will not be received back into the Roman Church as functioning clergy but will only be permitted to exercise the lay state.

On a number of occasions since Abp. Hepworth announced that the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) would be engaging in a “corporate merger” with the Roman Catholic Communion (RCC), he stated that if it became necessary for the success of such a merger, he was prepared to resign his position as a bishop.  Based upon these assurances, it is understood that those TAC members who still support the TAC’s entry into an RCC Ordinariate expect Abp. Hepworth to continue leading them “across the Tibur” by shortly announcing his reception back into the RCC as a layman.
* A strange use of the word "successful," since it has only attracted an underwhelming minority. - Fr. Hart

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

We are not a mission field

On implications of wider unity

One of the priorities we must have is real unity among Continuing Anglicans, and that for the sake of our portion of the overall mission of the Church as Christ authorized and commanded it. This keeps the priorities of unity, evangelism and Anglican identity closely related. Having survived the recent storm, it is useful to learn from the dangerous misapplication of the whole subject of unity as it often was related to the Two One True Churches, or as it was during the controversy that enveloped Anglicanorum Coetibus, to the Church of Rome. 

It was fashionable among the contingent advocating and misrepresenting that Roman constitution, to quote part of John 17:21, "That they all may be one," in a thoroughly confusing and misleading manner. This practice belonged to the modern "soundbite" culture in which words and phrases are used to prevent rather than aid the art of thinking. The misapplied words of Christ were used to appeal to sentiment, to impart guilt, and in every way simply to manipulate adults. Inasmuch as I have already given my defense of the true meaning of Christ's words (in The Theology of Unity) I will not restate it here. Suffice to say, for now, that even a number of people simply transferring from one denomination to another, say from the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) to the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), would not bring the Universal Church even so much as one step closer to outward and political unity; it would not end divisions that date back to the sixteenth century, or to 1054 AD. 

Does this mean we should not hope for eventual outward and political unity? Anglican writers as early as Richard Hooker have always held out that hope. We would not seek to close the door to it. We do, however, see it as more practical to work on unity among our own people as a realizable goal; and it is happening anyway. 

More to the point, at this time it is terribly obvious that both Rome and Orthodoxy see unity only in terms of joining them, losing our own identity and ceasing to be Anglican, submitting to them and putting ourselves completely in their hands. To them we are not a real church in any sense (indeed, in reality they still rule out each other as the true Church, though idealistic and misinformed, indeed misinforming, individuals have convinced themselves it isn't so). Whether we deal with the Orthodox or the Roman Catholics, when we talk of unity, they think of evangelism as they see it, regarding us as a mission field. 

We are not a mission field, and our place in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is certainly no less secure than theirs; and to the degree that true doctrine is part of the Apostolic Succession, we would argue that our place is more secure. And, it is high time for all Continuing Anglicans, especially Anglo-Catholics, to acquire that security. True doctrine is the issue that divides us still, at this time, from both of the Two One True Churches, because each of them remains muddled and unclear about important elements essential to the very Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not we who need their claims about history to somehow give us perfect validity. It is they who need clarity of doctrine that goes back to "the most ancient catholic doctors and bishops" of the Church; and that clarity is more readily at hand to us.

Some will be fooled by arguments based on unverifiable claims about history, such as the entire basis for the Papal claims, mixed with just plain impossible interpretations of scripture. You may be very sure that polemicists have already lost the real argument when they come back with derisive and silly attempts to dismiss us as "merely five hundred years old." Aside form being incorrect history, it means they have no Biblical or theological point in mind. Of course, that non-argument fits a perverted kind of logic that does not recognize their own divided state, nor the fact that we have maintained the Catholic Tradition that goes all the way back to the beginning. We have merely removed the dross.

If we want real unity, we must begin with our own people. If we hold out a hope for wider unity, it cannot be by accepting the lie that we are a mission filed for either One True Church to harvest. Sadly, that was what the recent storm was all about, Anglican bishops trying to accept the status imposed by Rome on behalf of those who intended loyalty to the truth of the Gospel, faith in the Anglican way, and the understanding Affirmed in St. Louis. Those who believe they need one or other of the Two One True Churches to be valid, or have "the fullness," or whatever, may go with our prayers and charity. But, we already belong to the Church; we are not a mission field. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sunday before Advent

JOHN 6: 5-14

The Collect has resulted in this day being known as “Stir Up Sunday.” And, of course, it means that next week we will enter into Advent. Some things will be different for these weeks that lead up into Christmas. It is a penitential season. Despite everything you will see in the stores- I would say in the shopping malls, remember please what this season is not. No matter what songs they will pipe through the air, it will not be Christmas time in the city- not yet. We are entering a Penitential season. Both of our most joyous feasts of the Church, Christmas and Easter, are preceded by the penitential seasons of Advent and of Lent. Some things in the Church will be different. The color will be violet (which looks a lot like purple, I am told). There will be no flowers on the altar. We will not have the Gloria during the Mass. 

In my days in Arizona I called a couple whose absence from church every Sunday, for a long time, had been the most noticeable thing about them. I was told that they would try to get back, but that, of course, I would understand why, with Christmas coming, they would be awfully busy, too busy for church until it is over. Now, I know that a priest should not use this word very carelessly or often in the pulpit; but that is, frankly, the most (and here it is) stupid thing anyone has ever said to me; the worst part being that I would "understand." Right. We, the clergy, are supposed to expect everyone to stay away from church all through Advent, because they are busy with the Christian duty of shopping and preparing parties. I trust we all know that Christmas is a feast day of the Church, the Christ Mass, no less than every Sunday in importance, and even more of an obligation than golf or shopping. And, I hope we all know why we should be in church during the very serious and reflective penitential season that leads up to it.

In the weeks ahead, we need to consider why the Church year ends its Sunday Gospel readings with this story from the Gospel of Saint John. Two main reasons come to my mind. First of all, we have prayed for God to “stir up…the wills of [His] faithful people”…to continue to bring forth the fruit of good works. And, in the Gospel we see that a little boy placed into the hands of Jesus Christ a rather small thing. He gave Him his lunch, five barley loaves and two small fish. Not only were the fish small, but the loaves were probably no bigger than those little round pita breads you see in the grocery stores. It was not much, but the Lord Jesus was able, with this bit of food, to feed thousands of people.

As you most likely know, very soon all the members of this congregation will be asked for a renewal of your pledge to this church. In case you think money is not a spiritual subject, let me point out that the question of what you do with your money, as well as what you do with your time, is very spiritual. Do you give to God that little bit that He has given to you? The important thing is to place what you have in the hands of Christ by faith, and let Him multiply it and feed many.

Remember, we do not belong to that rich, though shrinking, institution called the Episcopal Church, and we do not have its millions of dollars of endowment money. Thanks be to God that we can remain faithful without leaving our Anglican way, that is, without leaving the teaching and practice that the Episcopal Church used to believe in. We have chosen to remain faithful to the Tradition of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, preserving, specifically, the Anglican way of being Christian.

I mention this because you need to know that we are healthy, but we are not that big rich organization that has the endowments. We have a more valuable treasure than all those endowments put together, and we must pass it on to future generations. I want this church to grow. I want it to be filled with families, with children and young people who can learn our faith and take it into the future. The very fact that this church exists speaks volumes about faith, hope and charity. Faith that God is alive and active, and can use what we put in His hands. It is about hope, because we look ahead to a future in which we hand on the faith to generations yet to come. And, it is about charity, because we are here to meet the needs of people who are not yet here.

As we ask you to place, yet again, your loaves and fish in Christ’s hands, that is to renew your pledge, remember that those hands have been wounded. “Those dear tokens of His Passion, still His dazzling body bears: Cause of endless exultation by His ransomed worshipers.” We need to be here so that the people of this community can come into this place and meet the Christ Who died for each one of them; to come and to find here the Risen Christ. He is here in the breaking of bread. Ultimately, that is the greater message of this Gospel passage. The bread and fish handed over to the Lord Jesus, He then multiplied because He was teaching, by this miracle, that He Himself is “the True Bread that comes down from heaven, which, if man eat thereof, he shall live forever.” He taught that His flesh is food indeed and His blood is drink indeed, and that by Him we are nourished with eternal life.

I have spoken to you in a very straightforward way, because I do not want the pressures of this coming season to distract you from the true purpose of it all. How ironic that the coming of Christmas could keep some people out of Church, as if the main event is not to rejoice in the revelation of the Word made Flesh. The Incarnation, celebrated months ago on the Feast of the Annunciation, was almost hidden away, and unnoticed, until "the babe, the world's redeemer, first revealed His sacred face," that Feast of the Nativity that we prepare for. 

Shopping malls, and secular parties, are not the preparation. How fitting that Bethlehem means "house of bread," in this case the Bread of Life. The preparation for that feast is to be here, using the penitential season to examine yourself, as St.Paul teaches. It is time to reflect on every change and adjustment each of us may need to make, and therefore, to be receiving each Sunday the Living Bread that comes down from heaven, which, if a man eat, he may live forever.

He commanded that the fragments left over from this miracle be gathered up and that nothing be lost. In this world, by His creation first, and then even more so by His coming in the flesh, as fully God and fully Man, we see that material things can take on the quality of holiness. This bread was too holy to be treated with disdain and left to spoil. And, it was only a mere symbol of this bread and wine, which will become in the Blessed Sacrament of His body and blood. If you wonder why we go to so much trouble not to profane the sacrament, to preserve it set apart in the tabernacle, remember this story. It was a miracle that only served to shadow this miracle that will happen here today; it was used by Christ to teach that we must feed on Him, and do so in faith, to have His risen life within us.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Laymen's guide to the Thirty-nine Articles

Article XV

Of Christ alone without Sin

Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which He was clearly void, both in His flesh and in His spirit. He came to be the lamb without spot, Who by sacrifice of Himself once made, should take away the sins of the world: and sin, as S. John saith, was not in Him. But all we the rest, although baptized and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things: and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Christus in nostrae naturae veritate per omnia similis factus est nobis, excepto peccato, a quo prorsus est immunis, tum in carne tum in spiritu. Venit ut agnus absque macula esset, qui mundi peccata per immolationem sui semel factam tolleret: et peccatum, ut inquit Iohannes, in eo non erat. Sed nos reliqui, etiam baptizati et in Christo regenerati, in multis tamen offendimus omnes: et, si dixerimus quia peccatum non habemus, nos ipsos seducimus, et veritas in nobis non est.

Fr. Laurence Wells

As far as I know, the sinlessness of Christ was not under debate in the 16th century controversies.  Whatever new thoughts were circulating among the more radical theological currents of that period, there was no debate at all between Rome and the various wings of the magisterial Reformation regarding this point.   So it may come as a surprise to find this article bristling like a porcupine with a number of hot-button issues.
First, we have the assertion of our Lord's moral impeccability.  Next, we have the assertion of His exclusive uniqueness in this attribute.  The word "alone" lacks the punch of the original Latin, "Nemo praeter Christum."
Then there is a strong assertion that  otherwise, His humanity was in no respect different from ours.  Next, there is a definite nod in the direction of the doctrine of the atonement, anticipating a major theme dealt with more fully in Article XXXI.  Finally, there is yet a second assertion of the universality of our sinful condition, along with a statement on the vexed question of residual sin in those regenerate and justified. 
Before reflecting on the sinlessness of the Saviour, we need to review the nature of sin itself.  There are basically two ways of thinking about sin, which go back to the heresiarch Pelagius and the sainted Church Father Augustine.  In a Pelagian world-view, "sin" is a term which describes occasional occurrences which interrupt the normal flow of life for morally neutral creatures.  Occasionally they get angry, have impure thoughts, say unkind words, or even do more heinous things.  But these are deviations from the norm, extraordinary events, moral anomalies. But as Augustine heard the Word of God, sin is not only things we do or fail to do; sin is the underlying condition, the spiritual disease, which explains our behavior.  Worse than that, sin blemishes all our behavior and to a frightening degree controls it.  Understood as a spiritual disease, sin is a terminal condition, from which its victims cannot heal or extricate themselves.  Augustine grasped the painful Biblical truth that sin is rooted in human nature at its very core:

"But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matt. 15:18--19." 

Sinful outward behavior originates in the heart itself.
Now the New Testament insists in many familiar texts that Jesus was "without sin."  It would tax the patience of our readers to enter into a scholastic discussion as to whether He was "able not to sin" (posse non peccare) or "not able to sin" (non posse peccare).   He Himself insisted on His sinlessness in John 8, with the stinging question, "Which of you convicts me of sin?" (John 8:46).  This follows on Jesus' own assessment of the human condition, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin."  St Paul clarifies the "everyone" with an emphatic "all" at Romans 3:24, "For all sinned and are falling short of the glory of God."      
If Pelagius was right, then the sinlessness of Christ is hardly significant, save perhaps as an important (but not necessarily unique) moral example.  But from Augustine's Biblical point of view, the exemption of Christ from the fatal predicament of sin is both miracle and mystery.  Sin is not only an internal disease of our spiritual DNA; it is part of the warp and woof of social relationships in the human community.  Since God Incarnate did not live on earth as a "boy in a bottle," in an antiseptic cage of moral isolation, then how did he manage to stay sinless?  The New Testament does not invite us to believe that as the Second Adam He entered the world in Edenic safety and bliss.  His sinless humanity was still our miserable fallen humanity:  "By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh" (Romans 8:3).  
The sinlessness of Christ is in itself a miracle.  The drama of His Temptation, told by Matthew and Luke and alluded to by Mark, comes across as a surprising Victory, like the Resurrection itself, an outcome the reader could not anticipate.  This miracle is rooted in His Virginal Conception (although that fact has larger meaning). Only a sinless One could redeem sinners, and for a truly sinless One to arrive in this fallen world a new beginning, a New Creation, was necessary.
Although Old Testament foreshadowings of His sinlessness are not lacking, no sinless human being existed between Adam and Christ.  To suggest such a thing diminishes His uniqueness and denies His role as "the only mediator between God and man."
When we look at the NT texts which state His sinlessness, the uniqueness of Christ is always close to the forefront.

In Hebrews 4:15, we read, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."  His unique sinlessness is part and parcel of His unique priesthood.  To indulge in speculations of any other sinless mortal compromises His unique role in the Gospel and inexorably leads to unwholesome thoughts of co-redeemers and co-redemptrices. He is exclusively our Great High Priest and we are not invited by God's Word into any sentimental notions of a Great High Priestess.

Fr. Robert Hart

Fr. Wells has provided the meat of what this Article is saying, and closes with an obvious allusion to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a doctrine that was never a dogma of the Universal Church, though declared a dogma exclusively by the See of Rome in the nineteenth century without even so much as the appearance of conciliar assent. In the centuries prior to the sixteenth, going as far back as St. Thomas Aquinas, the theory of the Immaculate Conception was under debate, and so it remained even in the Church of Rome until 1854 when Pope Pius IX issued Ineffabilis Deus. It was not a doctrine of the Church of Rome when this Article was composed.
What matters in that connection is that Mary’s sinless state was a matter of grace at the moment of the Virginal Conception of the Lord. The Scriptures use a word that is stronger than the standard word for “grace,” and in the King James it takes two words to translate it; “highly favored.” This is obviously echoed in the famous “Hail Mary” as “full of grace” (i.e. instead of the standard χάρις Luke used the word χαριτόω).
But, the theory of the Immaculate Conception does not flow naturally from the texts of Scripture. It is a theory that, if true, certainly solves no problem. The Medieval “problem” that Christ needed a mother free of original sin in order to be free of it Himself, fails to take into account the miraculous nature of the Incarnation and the power of God. You may believe the theory if you want to; but I cannot teach it as doctrine, for it is not a doctrine of the ancient Church, nor of the Universal Church to this day; which is to say, it is not revealed and is not recorded in Scripture among all things necessary to salvation.
The unique sinlessness of Christ, however, perfectly meets that whole standard as necessary and infallible doctrine. Without this understanding we fail to understand the One for the many as set forth in the Suffering Servant passage in the Book of Isaiah (52:13-53:12) and the fifth chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Church in Rome.

It also seems likely that the ending of the Article was aimed at Enthusiasts of the time, among some Puritans and Anabaptists, who believed themselves to be sinners no longer after a personal conversion. We hear echoes of this error today from people who say they were once sinners, but now are saints. Therefore the Article closes with a quotation from chapter one of the First Epistle of St. John, to remind everyone of the need to confess and repent daily. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Dutch Touch

A study in irrelevance.

(rerun from June 11, 2009)
Recently, in private e-mail, the Dutch Touch was mentioned, to borrow a phrase coined by someone else for the Infusion of Old Catholic Orders into Anglican Orders by co-consecration. It was mentioned by someone who seemed to suggest that I might consider Anglican Orders to have become valid by the Infusion. Indeed, some who call themselves Anglican may embarrass the rest of us by holding this position, but I do not. We never needed the Infusion, and our Orders were defended against Roman non-sense quite thoroughly before the idea ever presented itself into our history. Reassuring ourselves was never the motive.

For those who are not familiar with the history of this Infusion, I will explain briefly and simply, as to the historic facts and to the concept. In the 1930s the Church of England invited Old Catholic Bishops to participate in consecrations of new bishops. The Dutch Old Catholic bishops, Mgr. Henry van Vlijmen, Bishop of Haarlem, and Mgr. John Berends, Bishop of Deventer, took part in the consecration of Anglican bishops in St. Paul's Cathedral, in 1931 and 1932. The first co-consecration was that of Bishop Graham-Brown, a well known Anglican of the Evangelical party (as it was defined in the 1930s, which is considerably different from how contemporary Reassereters have redefined it). From Bishop Graham-Brown infused orders spread; and the co-consecrations were repeated in several venues, such as co-consecrations with bishops of the Polish National Catholic Church in the United States, so that by the early 1960s every Episcopal priest had these orders in his lineage, catching up with the rest of the Anglican Communion which had been thoroughly infused since some time during the 1950s. Therefore, the Orders of all Continuing Anglicans began (1978) with this in our history; all Continuing Anglican Orders have the Infusion somewhere in their family tree. And, to this interesting fact I have only a two word reaction:Who cares?

Unfortunately, some of our Roman Catholic detractors have assumed, wrongly, that the Anglicans sought co-consecration because Rome considered Old Catholic Orders valid, and this meant that Anglicans could supply what was missing, or fix their allegedly bad and defective orders. But, as documented by Brian Taylor 1 from correspondence between Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang and other high ranking Church of England officials, the expressed, written and recorded motive was ecumenical. Not only was it to serve as a way to improverelations with the Old Catholics, but to make Anglican orders "more acceptable to Rome in the event of some future Reunion." 2

The idea, therefore, was never to make them valid, or more acceptable to ourselves. It was an ecumenical gesture, and as such a potential gesture for some day in which it may please God to grant Catholic unity in the West. But, Anglicans had already defended their orders many times over the centuries, and at no time after the Infusion was it mentioned as a relevant factor by any serious Anglican apologist, not even by those who noted it, such as Claude Beaufort Moss in 1965. 3 Dom Gregory Dix made no mention of it in 1944 when writing The Question of Anglican Orders, Letters to a Layman 4. Neither did E. J. Bicknell's book A Theological Introduction to The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, in any of its later editions after revision in the 1950s, so much as say one word about it in the portion of the book where Anglican orders are defended. 5 In short, the Anglican apologetic treatment of the Infusion appears to be summarized by my own reaction: "Who cares?"

Frankly, Saepius Officio,written in 1897 by the Archbishops of England (Canterbury and York) said everything that needed to be said in defense of our Orders, and the best summary anywhere is that of Bicknell.

As for the subject of the Infusion itself, it is a relic of an innocent age of ecumenical hope, that innocence and hope that would suffer destruction for the official Anglican Communion in 1976. If the Infusion may help someday between orthodox Anglicans of the Continuum and Rome or, restart some ecumenical relations with the Polish National Catholic Church, then maybe it will not have been a big wasted effort after all.

Until such a time, who cares?
1. In his 1995 paper, published in Great Britain, Accipe SpiritumSanctum.

As our reader who goes by the name of Canon Tallis also pointed out in a comment months ago:

"Marc Antonio de Dominus, sometime Archbishop of Spaleto and Dean of Windsor, participated in Anglican consecrations in the Caroline age before he made the mistake of returning to Rome and their so kind ministrations? I think someone in the Continuum needs to reprint Littledale's The Petrine Claims and make it required reading for both postulants and the clergy."

2. This possibility was never rejected by Anglicans. See this older post analyzing a section of Richard Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

3. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: AN INTRODUCTION TO DOGMATIC THEOLOGY - By CLAUDE BEAUFORT MOSS, D.D.LONDON - S.P.C.K 1965 Holy Trinity Church MarylboneRoad London NW 1 - Printed in Great Britain by Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd Bungay Suffolk - First published in 1943 - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2004

4. Westminster : Dacre Press, 1944.

5. A Theological Introduiction to the Thirty-Nine Articles, (DownloadableWittenberg Hall Copyright: © 1955 Public Domain (originally printed before revisions in 1919)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Ephesians 6:10-20 * John 4:46-50

“Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.”

Why is this story even written, inasmuch as it is nowhere near as spectacular as the really dramatic miracles, such as the raising of Lazarus from the dead? What was the Apostle John thinking? And, yes, we believe he was guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit; but, inasmuch as that inspiration was to his mind and reason, it is right to ask what John was thinking.
          Like the healing of the centurion’s servant, this is the kind of miracle all too easy for a skeptic to dismiss. So, we must learn why each of those stories is included in the Gospels. The centurion’s story is not very spectacular either; but what it teaches us about faith is. This story seems to be addressing more the subject of faith than anything else.
          What we read seems contradictory at first glance. “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” Is this a rebuke? Is the Lord displeased? If so, He doesn’t show displeasure. If needing to see a sign was a weakness, then the Lord gave the weak man what he needed most.
          Near the end of John’s Gospel we see the resurrected Christ saying to Thomas, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed (20:29).” Is this a rebuke? That seems unlikely, inasmuch as it was the will of God for the Apostles all to be eyewitnesses of His post resurrection appearances.
          As terrible as this may seem to the advocates of “tough love,” it seems very obvious that Christ was making allowance for human weakness, even a weakness in faith. To Him it is not great faith that is necessary, but only faith as small as a grain of mustard seed (Matthew 17:20, Luke 17:6). People who present themselves to others as possessing great faith generally are those of little faith, little in quantity and quality. Even a grain of mustard seed is much larger, and that is because it is real.
          One of the ways in which the popular American “faith & prosperity” message does damage is in convincing true believers that they don’t have enough faith to please God; otherwise, the logic runs, they would be in perfect health all the time, they would have no economic problems, and they would always be happy all the time. That kind of religion doesn’t produce faith, but rather it demands a show, an outward presentation of a jolly, successful and happy life; people who belong to such churches can show no sign of weakness (no wonder they have no confession of sin), and risk being on the outside if they do. So, in the place of faith, they learn hypocrisy and denial.
          Their error is a reflection of a very old one. Those who think they can earn salvation by the accumulation of merits never know if they have accumulated enough. Those whose faith must be great never know if their own is great enough. None of them can have any assurance that their sin is forgiven, and that they will inherit eternal life.
          But, in the Church as established by Christ, there is no need to impress each other; and the sacrament of Confession and Absolution is for everybody, even bishops and other clergy. Simply put, there is no room for pride, including the pride of being “spiritual” and “fervent in faith” to all outward appearance.
The passage we read from Ephesians warns of the danger we face if we forget we are in a spiritual battle. We are not told to go boldly about proclaiming our own “victory” in life as we enter into battle; but, instead to put on the whole armor of God in order to stand against the wiles of the Devil. Armor is made to protect us because of our weakness and mortality. 
Back in the 80s, as the people of one church I belonged to were awaiting a bus to Washington D.C. for the March for Life, we allowed some Pentecostals to meet at our church and use the same bus. They decided to pray with us, and one of them went through a very theatrical prayer in which she attacked the forces of Hell with alarming self-confidence. After she had her say to God, and to all the forces of Hell, I asked everyone to turn to the General Confession, and asked the rector (I was not yet a priest) to follow with the Absolution. For, I knew that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
When we were present in Washington at that event, several speakers were on a platform, and a rabbi was asked to lead prayers. His words included, “O God, our hands have not shed this blood…” But, looking at that vast crowd I could not accept his words. His prayer was empty as long as he boasted (and I know of a number of Christian clergy who would say, essentially the same thing he did). We must never pray thus to ourselves, “I thank Thee God that I am not as other men are (Luke 18:11).” Some of those people had indeed shed this blood; some had indeed paid for or received abortions. But, they had repented and gone to God for forgiveness. That was part of why they had come.
The point John was making was very simple. When Jesus said, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe,” indeed, He was not pleased with that. But, God is gracious. This brings us into deeper things that must be understood. I have said before: Beware of a religious teaching that says that life is a test. Life is not a test. Life is a shipwreck. If life is a test we all have failed already.

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one…But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 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 (Romans 3:10-12, 21-26).”

So, you see, life is not a test. We did not need an examiner, and we do not need a grade. The grade we each and everyone receive is “F.” We don’t need proof that we were born as fallen creatures given to sin and death. Jesus did not come into the world to grade our report cards. He came to this shipwreck to rescue us from sin and death. It is called the grace of God; it is called mercy; it is the manifestation of the love of God meeting us at the point of our real need, even if we do not perceive our need at all. It is summarized in those words of Jesus that each of you should know:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:16, 17).

It seems so simple, so basic; and so why do we lose sight of it? Because we are in a spiritual war, and the main weapon of our common enemy is deception. It is good and right to preach about sin, because we also have the message of mercy and forgiveness. The world today doesn’t want to hear about forgiveness. They want instead to have Divine approval stamped on every choice they have ever made or will make. Until they recognize that sin is still sin, but also that repentance and confession bring about forgiveness and healing, as a priest I can do nothing for them.
God met us in our weakness, at the point of our real and greatest need. That is why He poured out His life on the cross, letting His blood be shed as the one perfect offering, the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. It is why he did not cast off His human nature, but rose from the dead to remain one of us forever. It is why He met the need of a man who needed to see signs and wonders to believe, and healed his son. It is why he gives mercy to you. It is why he came into the world.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Our priorities

At this point in the history of the Continuing Church it seems that three things must be emphasized. These three things are really about our future. They are unity, evangelism and Anglican identity. At this time, the leading bishops of the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC), the Anglican Church in America (ACA), the United Episcopal Church North America (UECNA), the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK) and the Anglican Province in America (APA) have, at one time or other recently, committed themselves to establishing that unity. Four of those leading bishops, as readers of The Continuum know (from this and this) were at the recent Provincial Synod of the ACC-OP, and there each of those four said that the recent effort of the pope in Anglicanorum Coetibus has had the unforeseen effect of renewing commitment to Anglicanism, and with it a desire to bring about unity among the major jurisdictions of Continuing Anglicanism. They have each credited the Holy Spirit for this. 

Unity will mean that one Continuing Anglican presence can finally be free of the old range wars. None of the leading bishops (whether Arch or Presiding) ever created the divisions in the first place. They inherited them. Unity would have made us grow larger in the past, and it can do so in the future. It has been obvious to the laity and to observers that we all have more in common than any issues that cause division. In fact, it was not generally doctrine that caused divisions, as we all know. That would, at least, have been principled. 

Evangelism is not an option. It is the direct command of Jesus Christ Himself; and any church that does not have His mission as part of its very reason to exist is not the Church He established. Sacramental validity is not enough to make up for that lack. Without the Gospel being preached and the mission of the Church as a priority, the Apostolic Succession is not complete; for the Apostolic Church was given the Great Commission. Just think about that for a while.

Finally, Anglican identity as we understand it and have Affirmed that understanding, is also not an option for us. Yes, we are free of destructive and erroneous One True Church theories, and unlike both of the two One True Churches we know ourselves to be but a part of the whole (as we know them to be). But, we have chosen to be Anglicans because we believe it to be, although not the only way to be Christian, the way that is most faithful to the revelation of God as revealed and recorded in Scripture, and as that scripture was understood by the most ancient catholic doctors and bishops. 

These three priorities must be embraced as we go forward. Each has been attacked by the great enemy of our souls. It is time to stop being ignorant of Satan's devices (II Cor. 2:11). For too long the enemy has been able to say the words of Israel's enemies of old:

"But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews. And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned? Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall. Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity... (Nehemiah 4:1-4)"

If you have had enough of that, as I have, it is time to pray and do everything possible to put resources and energy into unity, evangelism and maintaining Anglican identity.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Evangel

Following the article we posted about evangelism last week, the question arose as to what the Evangel, the Gospel, is. I want to restate my own thoughts about the most basic answer to that question from an older sermon for the 11th Sunday after Trinity:

1 Cor. 15: 1-11
Luke 18:9-14

It is very fitting that St. Paul is the Apostle who wrote the Epistle from which we have heard this day, because of what we read this same day from the Gospel of Luke. St. Paul was, in his lifetime, both of the men in this parable. He was both the Pharisee who believed his own self-righteous delusion, and then, by God's grace, he became as the Publican who repented, confessed his sin, and was justified. Paul was, in his youth, just like the Pharisee about whom we read, thinking himself righteous and despising others. But, when coming close to Damascus in order to persecute those who were Jesus' disciples and believers, he saw the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, and at once came to see himself, Saul the Pharisee, as not only a sinner, but the chief of sinners. Instead of self-confidence before God, he acquired humility; instead of boasting he learned to confess. He confesses his sin with all humility in this very same Epistle text, as we heard:

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 

I have no patience with many modern commenters who belittle Paul as if he continued to have the Pharisaical attitude all his life long, and who are deluded and arrogant enough to suppose that they see it in his Epistles. Any excuse will do, not to learn from the Apostle, any excuse to treat him as less than the holy martyr that he is, to speak of him as less than Jesus Christ's appointed messenger to bring the Gospel to the nations, Apostle to the Gentiles and writer of most of the New Testament. We have the witness of St. Peter that the Epistles of Paul were so revered that, even in his lifetime, the Church began regarding them as γραφή (i.e. Scriptures. See II Pet. 3:15,16).

Paul was joyful and grateful, even through all of his suffering and the persecution he endured for the rest of his earthly life. He had been set free from the worst kind of self-deception and delusion. He came to see that no man can make himself righteous, and that only by God's grace can we be forgiven and justified, and that only by the grace of God active in one's life, by the Holy Spirit who is given to us, can we become holy. The true heart of St. Paul comes across more clearly than ever a couple of chapters later, when writing about charity, the perfect and perfecting love of God for us, and within us by the Holy Spirit.

Comparing his old unconverted life to the new creation in Christ that he had become (II Cor. 5:17), the Apostle wrote us this autobiographical sketch:

“Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”- Phil. 3: 5-9

When the Lord appeared to Saul, and made him an eyewitness of the resurrection, many things changed in his understanding. His righteous act of persecuting theChurch was revealed to have been the sin of persecuting the Messiah himself, his own self-attained righteousness was shown to be a delusion, and the curse that was evident in the manner of Jesus’ death was revealed to be atonement paid by the Righteous One for the many, the sinners, thus taking away the curse from those who deserved it (Gal. 3:13). Right away, at his conversion, Paul was granted the revelation that would become his bold teaching about faith in Jesus Christ and the grace that he gives, that Jesus Christ is himself our only Salvation.

Understand what Paul always means when he speaks of our salvation by grace through faith (and remember that phrase exactly, by grace through faith). He never speaks of "faith" simply as an attribute or attitude. He means faith in a very specific way: that is, specifically, faith in Jesus Christ. If we discuss faith and works, let us be clear: Faith means this faith in Jesus. Furthermore, as he would warn these same Corinthian Christians in a later Epistle (II Cor. 11:1f), there are other gospels and there is another Jesus, indeed, gospels and christs as varied as the human imagination with demonic influence may create.

And, it matters because in this text from Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, we see the details listed for us so that we may know what to present if we are to preach the Gospel (εὐαγγέλιον, Euaggelion). The true Gospel of the real Lord Jesus Christ is never complete, and is never really preached, without these four facts that are brought out in today's Epistle. As there are four books we call Gospels, there is one message of the Gospel that has four facts, the facts we have already heard this day. Someone in the blogosphere wanted to argue with me that there is only one Gospel, because I referred in passing to the four Gospels. In a sense he was right: There is only one message we call the Gospel. The four books we call the Gospels all preach this message, for in each of the four Gospel books we have these four facts, which are the Gospel. In sermons of either St. Peter or St. Paul, in the Book of Acts, you will find these four same four facts.

1. Christ died for our sins as the scriptures foretold.
2. He was buried.
3. He rose the third day as the scriptures foretold.
4. He appeared to witnesses.

We need to get this right, for our own salvation and for the purpose of communicating the message. Paul wrote of the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit that is present by proclaiming this simple message. He wrote, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." (Rom.1:16) The word translated "power" is a special word that is used for the work of the Holy Spirit, a word that always means miraculous power. The word is δύναμις (dunamis), from which we get words like dynamic, and dynamite. So, Paulwas saying that the Gospel is the miraculous and supernatural power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes; that the Holy Spirit is the One who gives the message this power to work the miracle of salvation in each believer (if you will receive it, this makes true evangelism genuinely sacramental). God places within this message the same power that has healed the blind, and that raises the dead.

So, let us be diligent to get it right.

First of all, we must be clear who we mean when we sayChrist. We do not mean simply a good man or great religious leader. We do not mean simply a prophet. We do not mean simply a man who died for a cause, or who was unjustly condemned. We mean, as Paul calls him later in this same chapter, "the Lord from heaven." (v.47) We mean the One who is himself with God, and is God, and is also with God in the unity of the Trinity, the Word made flesh (John 1:14). We mean the one who was born of a virgin, as St. Matthew and St. Luke teach clearly in their Gospels. So, this Person we call Jesus Christ is exactly who we have professed him to be in saying the Creed:

"God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By whom all things were made: Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man, And was crucified also for us underPontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead: Whose kingdom shall have no end."

John warns that any spirit that will not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is that spirit of Antichrist, also called the spirit of error (I John 4:1f) That is, it refuses to confess the Incarnation, either by denying that he is God, One with the Father and the Holy Spirit, or by denying that he has taken complete human nature into his uncreated and Divine Person.

So, again.Paul writes:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5-11)

1. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.

Here, as in the Creed, the phrase “according to the scriptures” means “in fulfillment of the scriptures.” Look at the 22nd Psalm. Look at the Suffering Servant passage from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah (if you do not know this entire passage, then read it and learn it at home: Isaiah 52:13-53:12):

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” 

Drawing from the Epistle to the Hebrews, our service ofHoly Communion puts it this way:

"All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world." 

2. He was buried.

That is, He died, really and truly in fact, He was dead. The one Man who ever lived and did not deserve the wages of sin, death, (Rom. 6:23) was dead and buried just like everyone else.

3. He rose the third day according to (again, in fulfillment of) the scriptures.

Throughout the book of Acts the most commonly used passage of the Old Testament for this is in the 16thPsalm:

“Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”

This is a real and material fact, that he rose in his body of flesh and bone, transforming it into a body that cannot die.

4. He appeared to witnesses.

This fourth fact is essential to the Gospel. Without these eyewitnesses, the resurrection of Christ would be a mere story. But, the resurrection of Christ is a fact of history, recorded with the blood of martyrs, men who saw Him alive again after His resurrection. While Saint Paul was writing this Epistle, many of these witnesses were yet alive, giving the Church that assurance and confidence that it needed to survive the earliest days of persecution. The Greek word translated "witness" throughout the New Testament is μάρτυς (martus). It became our English word martyr. Originally, it meant a witness, one who testifies. Eventually, this witness or martyrdom, testimony of seeing the risen Christ, cost the eyewitnesses their lives in this world; but having seen the resurrected Christ, they despised death; they feared the grave no longer.

Months from now, in the winter on January 25th, we will celebrate the Conversion of Saint Paul. On that day, we clergy wear white, and the altar is decorated with white. If the feast is about Saint Paul, then surely we ought to wear red, should we not? Red is the color of martyrs. But, the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul is not about Paul; it is about the last Easter appearance recorded in Scripture, a part of Easter “out of due time,” just as Saint Paul was called by seeing the Risen Christ “as one born out of due time.” His conversion came from being a witness of the resurrection of Christ, at which point he learned all of these things we meditate upon today. He learned that he was a sinner. He learned that he was forgiven. He learned that this forgiveness was given by the sacrifice of Christ on his behalf.

St. Paul has told us what the message is that we call the Gospel. There is no substitute for it, unless we choose to turn away from God, and preach an entirely false message. Then we have a great many choices to pick from, but all of them end in eternal death. Some of those messages are nice, warm and fuzzy, or inspirational. They enable people to avoid the cross, loving their own christand hating the cross of the real Christ (Phil. 3:17-20). They avoid the bloody business about Christ's sacrifice, his offering up of himself for our sins. They avoid that crude material stuff about rising again in a body of flesh and bone, and teach a purely heavenly and spiritual salvation that has nothing to do with real life, and makes no demands. They have no Incarnation, no cross, and no resurrection. They require no repentance and offer no forgiveness. Turn away from these false gospels. Reject them in favor of the true Gospel that consists always of these four facts, these four facts that you must keep in your heart and have ready on your tongue:

1. Christ died for our sins as the scriptures foretold.
2. He was buried.
3. He rose the third day as the scriptures foretold.
4. He appeared to witnesses.