Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Romans 13:1-7  * Matthew 8:1-13

When my children were still children I learned a valuable lesson. One evening when dinner was prepared, I sent our daughter to call her three little brothers in from playing outside. Through the window I heard her simply tell them, “come in now; dinner time.” She came in flustered and annoyed to tell me, “they aren’t coming in.” So, I sent her again, and said, “this time tell them, ‘Dad says to come in.’” This time she came back leading the way, her little brothers appearing one at a time. The oldest of the boys was complaining that he wanted a few more minutes out there, but he was in nonetheless. The difference was “Dad says.”
          When St. Paul bids us to be subject to the higher powers, or governing authorities, in today’s Epistle reading, it is implied that the highest power is God Himself. Even among the worst of the worst, even in the highly corrupt and violent Roman Empire and the city of Rome itself, where the church to which he wrote this was located, it was in obedience to God that the Apostle urged respect for authority. That included his charge to them that they lead peaceful and law-abiding lives.
          It is obvious that no human authority, however, is absolute. Shortly after this came a period of time when even so much as being a Christian at all became a capital crime; and that lasted until the year 313 AD, during which long period of history Christians were the victims of an ancient holocaust that claimed several hundred thousand lives (a staggering number in those days). The sentence for being a Christian was death. St. Paul himself would, a few years after writing these words, himself be executed by beheading. The very powers he wrote about would sentence him to death. Why? Because he knew where to draw the line.
          In practical matters of peace and safety, in living with due order, the Apostle taught respect for authority; but not absolute surrender to tyranny. The key to unlock the apparent paradox is very much in the words, “Dad says.” In this case, Christians would pay taxes, honor the emperor within reason, keep the civil statutes, and so on. They would try to live peaceably. But, where the authorities contradicted God, they would have to disobey those earthly rulers in order to obey God.
          This pattern was well established already, long before St. Paul wrote these words. Look at this from the Book of Acts, when Peter and the Apostles stood before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin:

“Before the council… the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:28,29).”

          So, we respect and honor authority, but always with a view that no human being has the authority to rule over anyone’s conscience, that is, to take the place of God. The Highest Power is God. However, unless convinced that it is an issue of “God rather than men,” each one of us is strictly commanded in today’s Epistle reading to be subject to lawful authority. Now, if you believe it is a matter of “God rather than men,” then your conscience should be so firm that you would be willing to be stood up against a wall and shot. Selfish or petty concerns, mere rebellion without a cause, or with a personal agenda, does not count. If the issue is “God rather than men,” I expect you to be willing to die for your convictions. If it so important to disobey the speed limit, not to keep off the grass, or to cause disorder and chaos in society or even in the Church, then readiness to lay down your life for it, whatever it might be, should naturally follow.
          St. Peter was telling the High Priest, in effect, “Yes, but Dad says…” He was saying that it was the Lord Himself, Jesus Christ Who had risen from the dead and had stood before them alive after His death and passion for the sins of the whole world, Who had personally commanded them to preach His Gospel. Therefore, even the High Priest and the Sanhedrin, though their offices had been established by God Himself in the days of Moses, had no authority to tell them to disobey the Lord. The Apostles were bound to obey the Higher Power, Christ the Lord. And, yes they were willing to die for that obedience as an unshakable matter of conscience.
          Notice that Peter and the other Apostles did not speak down to the High Priest and the Council. They were never disrespectful. They even accepted a beating, and rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer for the Name of Jesus Christ. They were not rebels, they were not like angry adolescents wanting to make a scene; rather, just like the Centurion, they were men under authority. Like the old TV advertisement for Hebrew National Hotdogs, they were Kosher; they answered to a Higher Authority.
          I resist the idea that we should draw a direct a parallel between the Old Testament rule of the Sanhedrin and the High Priest to the authority God has placed in His Church. But, we may draw an indirect and implied meaning. Listen to these words:

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17).

          The “rule” is the same as care or cure. There are other such passages in the New Testament. There is a good reason why St. Paul wanted Timothy and Titus normally to ordain men who had already proven their ability as fathers in their own households. It takes the same kind of man who is a good father to be a good pastor. Though Paul himself (alone among the Apostles) lived a celibate life, and had raised no family, he nonetheless knew that, normally, it is best for a good father to have the responsibility for the cure of souls.
The priesthood is an eldership automatically (if you know the Greek New Testament you won’t even question that). It is no office for a man who wants either power or prestige. It is an office for a man who accepts responsibility for others, for their eternal good. It is an office with the responsibility of caring for the good of the Church, and also for souls under one’s pastoral care.
          You need to understand something from my perspective. You are not my customers. The customer is always right, and must be placated. But, children in the care of parents, patients in the care of doctors, and parishioners under the care of priests, are not customers. And, they are not always right either. This parish is not my employer, and you are not my bosses: The priest works for God under the authority of the bishop.
My responsibility is to care for your souls. Primarily, just as I was the one calling my sons in for dinner, it is my office to feed you. What do I feed you? Not my own ideas. My own ideas would have no real authority. It would be like my daughter saying, “come in now,” instead of speaking to her brothers on behalf of their father. I am charged with the awesome responsibility of feeding you God’s word. First and foremost that is the Gospel itself, and the appeal to everyone, “be ye reconciled to God.” I am charged always to remind you that Christ died for your sins and rose again, to come to the table with “hearty repentance and true faith.” It is not my own idea. It is what our Father says.
          The correct understanding of authority unlocks the mysteries in the Gospel reading we have today. The Law of Moses required that the leper was to keep his distance, and cry out “Unclean, unclean” as a warning, so others would keep away. In a very real sense, one we would not understand today in our time and place, the leper’s disease made him unclean and was, according to the statutes of the Law, a sin in itself. For, just by having leprosy a person was Lo Tahor, unclean. He was unable to enter the temple. He was, by having this disease, in a sense, required to keep his distance even from God.
          Jesus, as a man under the Law, always kept it perfectly. Yet, as God, He is also the Lawgiver. In the Sermon on the Mount He spoke plainly as the Lawgiver. As a man He obeyed the Law, and as God it was His Law, his property if I may put it that way.
          In dealing with the leper, He would have been expected to keep away so as not be made unclean Himself. Certainly, He would be expected not to touch such a man. Yet, he stretches forth His hand and touches him: “I will; be thou clean.” The words “I will” are words with ultimate authority, the will of God, the will of the Lawgiver Himself. Instead of the unclean man defiling the young rabbi, the Lawgiver Himself cleanses the leper. Instead of the touch making Jesus unclean, His touch makes the leper clean.
          As the leper saw it, this cleansing touch restored him to the fellowship of his people, and allowed him back into the presence of God in the holy temple. His is the Highest Power, Christ making all things new. Just as He cleansed the leper, so He cleanses and restores the souls of all who come to Him with “hearty repentance and true faith.” It is in His power to cleanse and restore. And, as we see in this reading, that is the will of the Highest Power of all; it is the will of God to cleanse and to heal.
          As a man, Christ perfectly fulfilled the Law and the Father’s will. The good will of God is why Jesus so readily took up His cross to take away all of our sins, just as He bore this leper’s sorrows and carried his grief, healing him thoroughly. He triumphed over death and rose the third day. With all the authority and power of the Lawgiver, with all power in heaven and earth as the risen and immortal Man in whose hand the will of God prospers* He commanded His disciples to go into all nations with the Gospel, and make more disciples, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things He had commanded them.
          In line with the Centurion’s observation, Christ had lived His earthly life as a man under authority, even under the Law. He has all things in heaven and earth under His authority now; He gives commandment to his Church to follow Him and to proclaim the kingdom of God in His Name. It is He Who tells us to do these things.

* Isaiah 53:10           

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Conversion of St. Paul January 25th


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 the Church was revealed to have been the sin of persecuting the Messiah himself, his own self-attained righteousness was shown to be a delusion, the curse that was evident in the manner of Jesus’ death was revealed to be atonement paid by the Righteous one for the many sinners, thus taking away the curse from those who deserved it, and the prophecies of scripture were revealed to have been speaking of two comings of Messiah, not one. How much of this was clear immediately and how much had to develop over time as he thought about it, is not clear. But, right away, in his conversion, is the revelation that would become Paul’s bold teaching about faith in Jesus Christ and the grace that he gives, himself our only Salvation.

See the rest here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

I have assigned preaching to Fr. Charles Lindsay this week, so here is a sermon I wrote for this Sunday (based on the American propers).

Gustave Dore' Bible Illustrations

John 2:1-11

Today we will look at three important things meant to be drawn out, exegeted, from this portion of the Gospel of John. These are:

1) Christ’s presence at a wedding
2) His phrase “my hour”
3) The title that he gives to His mother, namely, “Woman.”

Click here for the rest of the sermon.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Her Mother's Glory

Robert Hart on the Hardest of Abortion Cases
I promised myself that I would not be the stereotypical father of the bride, like Spencer Tracy, who hates to give away his little girl. But as I walked her down the aisle, and approached the moment she would become a full-grown, married lady, I felt everything I had determined not to feel. Very far from my mind was the story of her strange origins. It is always far from my mind, unless something reminds me of it, like the recent news from Poland.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Do the work of an Evangelist

Not of an underwriter.

(Re-posted from 2007. I was younger and less refined, a tad more feisty. But, I still believe this.)

"Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry."
II Timothy 4:2,5

The insurance business has that dreaded class of gate keepers who study every new application sent by an agent, examining it thoroughly to find whatever reason they may to reject it. The agent has worked hard to sell a policy, only to have it fall into such hands, those who are trained to be suspicious, to protect the company's assets and reserves, and to this end to show no pity on a would be customer. The truth is, the insurance companies do need these menacing figures in order to control losses. They are necessary in insurance, but not in the priesthood.

A while back I listened to a priest, a man with little experience but generous with unsolicited advice, describing how he had protected his church from the wrong kind of people. A couple, both Episcopalians, were moving to his area, and wanted to find what they called a "Bible believing church." The alarm bells went off in his head, since he took the expression "Bible believing" to indicate that they were Protestant in their thinking, Low Church in their tastes, and just not the right sort for his "Anglo-Catholic" parish. He was practically boasting about how he had scared them off by arguing over who was and who was not orthodox, and by his firm refutation of women's "ordination." Yes, he manged to keep the wrong sort of people away, and they did not even come by on Sunday morning to visit and see the church for themselves. He had scared them off just fine over the phone.

The man should have been an underwriter.

The famed Barrister of fiction, Horace Rumpole, once said about a colleague, "It's no great trick getting people into prison. How good is he at keeping them out?" The opposite applies to the sacred ministry in the Church. It is no great trick keeping people out of the Church. Just decide, O' Priest, that you shall be a gatekeeper instead of a fisher of men. It's much easier, and you get to play the role of the Bad Vicar.None of that nasty business of being patient and kind, none of that drag on your time. And, you get to cater to the desires of the most fussy and effeminate contributors who think it is more important to observe all of the choreography of Ritual Notes than to tend to the salvation of souls. Golly! You can even console yourself as your congregation remains stagnant, or drops off to nothing, that you had done well by keeping it pure. You can concentrate on the gossip and who's who of the bitter Continuing divisions, and treat everything to do with learning as a matter purely theoretical.

But, guess what my friends; we don't need underwriters among the clergy. So, if you are the type who examines visitors to see whether or not their "application" is solid, please go do something else. The world always needs good waiters and janitors, and insurance companies could use very fussy people as, you guessed it, underwriters. Get an honest job.

This is a time of opportunity for us. At this point in history, the Anglican world is exploding. When it falls back down it will be resorted and reconfigured. Many of the people in official Cantuarian Anglican churches are fleeing for their lives; and they are looking to African Primates, or going to Rome or Orthodoxy, because for too long the Continuing Churches have been choking the supply of the Gospel, and of the power to save souls through the pure preaching of God's word; they have been squeezing the hose shut instead of allowing the water to flow through it. The Spirit has been quenched for too long among a people who, having the truest and best of orthodox doctrine, nonetheless have made evangelism the lowest priority, if a priority at all.

When I say, "evangelism" I do not mean, first and foremost, church growth. Church growth is a consequence of evangelism; but the purpose of evangelism is the salvation of souls. When all is said and done, we will not answer on the Last Day for how well we performed the Ritual Notes (not even for the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Procession); but we will answer for whether or not we had been moved by charity to become vessels meet for the Master's purpose, pliable to the Holy Spirit for the work of evangelists. How much have we cared about the eternal destiny of lost souls in a fallen world? How much have we sought to welcome them, in fact to "compel them to come in?"

Now, if this couple had asked me if my church were A "Bible believing church," I would have said, as every true Catholic, including Catholic Anglicans, should say: "Yes, we most certainly are." I would have urged them to come, to taste and see that the Lord is good. We can deal with ignorance. In fact, dear priests, expect ignorance since you are supposed to be the teachers, and you cannot teach people what they already know. Welcome people whose minds are confused, and learn to speak in and interpret tongues enough to communicate in terms they receive. If such faithful Christians think in terms too foreign for your understanding, how do you hope to win the nations for Christ?

"O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling,
to tell to all the world that God is Light;
that he who made all nations is not willing
one soul should perish, lost in shades of night.
Publish glad tidings: tidings of peace
tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.

"Proclaim to every people, tongue, and nation
that God, in whom they live and move, is Love;
tell how he stooped to save his lost creation,
and died on earth that man might live above. Refrain

"Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious;
give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;
pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious
till God shall bring his kingdom's joyful day. Refrain

"He comes again! O Zion, ere thou meet him,
make known to every heart his saving grace;
let none whom he hath ransomed fail to greet him,
through thy neglect, unfit to see his face. Refrain"

O' Zion Haste, hymn 261 in the 1940 Hymnal
Words: Mary Ann Faulkner Thomson, 1870

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Romans 12:6-16a * Mark 1:1-11
The season of Epiphany gives us pictures of Christ that are meant to help us understand the revelation of who He is. Look at an icon of this event, and you get a glimpse of the meaning of this Gospel passage. The Son stands in the water, the Spirit appears in form as of a dove and lights upon Him, and the Father’s voice comes from above. This clear revelation of God is why we should think of today as a companion Sunday to Trinity Sunday. It is why the Orthodox Church sees this scene from the Gospels as the most significant Theophany, for which they name this season.

About thirty years ago I heard a man preach that when the Father spoke the words, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” that this was somehow necessary in order to meet the psychological need of Jesus, a word of approbation from the Father that, as the preacher’s words still ring in my memory, “His Son needed.” I do not know where people get these ideas, but they do not find them in the pages of scripture. The idea that we can understand Jesus Christ in psychological terms that are based upon the normal condition of fallen sinful people, who need healing or affirmation because of the brokenness of their lives, is a short route to heresy. We must not try to get into the mind of Jesus Christ as if He were subject to the problems that sinful people have. His understanding of His mission is not a subject for that kind of analysis.

Another idea that was popular for many years is that Jesus was suddenly aware of who He was, and of His unique relationship to the Father, because of the voice from heaven and this whole spiritual experience. This interpretation comes from the idea that He was drawn to hear the preaching of John the Baptist, and underwent some sort of personal epiphany akin to religious conversion, the kind that takes place when revivalists preach. According to this interpretation, he emerged from the water a new man, suddenly filled with divine purpose. Again, this would require that we imagine a Jesus who came to John in order to be forgiven his own sins, because John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. But, the thought of Jesus having sins of which to repent is heresy. He is without sin.

We need to think according to the actual revelation that is recorded here in the scriptures, and free our minds from wrong ideas. For, the simple fact is, nothing that Jesus did in His public ministry had anything to do with meeting a supposed need of His own. Everything was for our sakes, like the hymn says- “for us baptized, for us He bore his holy fast and hungered sore.” That wonderful hymn begins each line of most verses with those two words, “for us.”

For us He prayed, For us He taught, For us His daily works he wrought…For us to wicked men betrayed…For us he rose from death again.” What happened here at the River Jordan did not happen because the Son needed the Father’s affirmation, and it is was not some personal epiphany that changed His life. He knew already exactly who He was, and of His unique relationship to the Father, having expressed it to Joseph and Mary in the temple many years earlier when he was a child twelve years old. He asked them why they had looked for Him when they ought to have known that he would be in His Father’s house.

Jesus went to the River Jordan in order to begin His public ministry, to appear to the people of Israel, and to be proclaimed by John the Baptist as the Son of God. The baptism itself serves as a prelude to the crucifixion that He, for us, later would endure unto death. For here, standing with sinners in the waters of the Jordan, He is willingly taking on the sins of the whole world for the first time, letting Himself be identified with sinners and with their sins, remaining Himself guiltless, completely holy, and the only person among all of the human race about Whom the Father would say that He, God, is well pleased. God loves the fallen sinful children of men; but He is not well pleased with any of them in their Fallen state. Only His Son, free from sin, was pleasing to God; and here we see him entering the waters of the Jordan to begin his identification with our sins, a voluntary identification that would culminate on the cross. In John’s Gospel it is after this epiphany, this epiphany to John the Baptist and the people gathered, that the Baptist proclaims “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.”

I remember another strange idea that was expressed in my hearing, only this time it was from a layman. According to this fellow, there was some point when Jesus complained in response to the demands of a crowd that he was only one man, and they were asking too much from him. I do not know what movie this man saw, or what silly story he once heard from a well-meaning relative while growing up, or what dream he dreamt. I pointed out to him that nothing of the sort ever happened; that the Gospels record no such thing. Jesus fed thousands of people with five loaves and two fishes, rose people from the dead, walked on water, healed everyone who came to Him, and never once complained about anything, except for how little faith people have. He did not work within the confines of His human nature, but from within His eternal Godhead as the Son eternally begotten of the Father. He did not diminish His Divine nature, but rather he raised human nature. He did not reveal what is possible for a good man, but what is possible with God. The human nature that he took into His Divine Person as God the Son was a complete human nature; but the Person of Jesus the man was that of God the Son.

The voice from Heaven, and the appearance like that of a dove, all centered upon Jesus in the River Jordan, did not come for His sake. It did not meet some need that He had. It was for the sake of those who stood upon the bank of the river, those who saw and heard. It was for the sake of all of us who have learned about this epiphany, this revelation of the Trinity, that full and perfect name of God that later would be spoken by Christ after he rose from the dead; the name of “The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.” Here is a revelation of God, and of the mysterious relationship that has existed from all eternity, about which we have no right to speculate, hidden and veiled except for glimpses of revelation meant to aid us in our salvation. At no point was the Son alone, for the Father was always with Him, and the Holy Spirit remained upon Him.

The other people came to the Baptist confessing their sins. But, about this man the Father made a confession, that He was well pleased. The others came out of need. Jesus was there to meet our needs, especially the deepest need of all, to be reconciled to God; to know Him, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Others came to lay down their sins; Jesus was there to take up the sins they laid down, and to carry them to Calvary where they would be nailed to the cross with Him. The others came to lay down their burdens; Jesus was there to take up their burdens. “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 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 (Isaiah 53: 4-6).”

The Holy Spirit appears as a dove. Now, this is a different kind of manifestation than the physical presence of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The Holy Spirit is appearing in a vision granted to everyone there; His appearing is in a symbolic way, that is to say, it is a Divine writing of iconography in the very heavens. The appearance of a dove is a symbol, and the message is that God’s wrath is over and done. This is the Christmas message of the angel who appeared and spoke to the shepherds of “peace on earth, goodwill towards men.” Not among men, but towards men. We are reminded of the story of Noah, who sent out the dove, which returned with an olive branch in its mouth to reveal that the waters of God’s wrath had abated from off the earth. Noah later offered a sacrifice after he left the ark, and God promised not to destroy man, and hung up His bow, His rainbow, as a pledge. The meaning is this: By appearing as a dove that descended upon Jesus, the Holy Spirit signified to us that Christ is the peace offering that reconciles us to God. This too, just like the very baptism itself, points to our redemption by Christ’s full and complete offering of Himself on the cross.

And, to the ear came the audible voice of the Father, telling us of His pleasure in the Son. This is more than simply His approval of Christ’s holy life. It is the eternal love within the Trinity, wherein God delights in being God, where each of the Persons delights in the perfection and worthiness of the other two Persons. ..we know this is true, but our speaking of it cannot do justice to the reality as we shall begin to know it when the risen Christ returns in glory. For now, we see the significance in the Father’s words, telling us not only of His Son’s worthiness and holiness, but telling us this in contrast to the pleasure He cannot take in the fallen state of every other human being who was there. Here too we understand why this voice was heard at the Lord’s baptism. As Jesus Christ identified Himself with sinful mankind, the other Persons of the Godhead told us Who He is, and why He is Himself without sin, but standing in for us to save us. The Father speaks of His Son Who always pleases Him, telling us not only that He remains holy and without spot or stain of sin, but even more; that He is the Son Who throughout eternity and before all worlds gives delight to the Father in that Divine love that is beyond our comprehension.

We see the Trinity in this report of the Lord’s baptism that day. The vision of the Holy Spirit was for our sake; the voice of the Father was for our sake. Here we see and hear the Trinity with eyes and ears, and we see also that only in Jesus Christ and His offering of Himself do we have salvation from sin and death. And, we can say, from all this, that the revelation of the Trinity tells us, in the words of Saint John the Apostle, “God is love.”

The revelation of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, the Trinity, is a necessary part of our salvation. It is not about abstract and difficult theology, but about how God, who is Love, saves us from sin and death and promises to raise us up in His Son. He has made Himself known in our world- not perfectly understood, but known. What was revealed that day at the River Jordan was a revelation to every human being except Jesus, who alone already knew.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles

Article XVII.  Of Predestination and Election

Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, He hath constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation as vessels made to honour. Wherefore they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by His Spirit working in due season; they through grace obey the calling; they be justified freely; they be made sons of God by adoption; they be made like the image of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works; and at length by God's mercy they attain to everlasting felicity.

As the godly consideration of Predestination and our Election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly members and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: so for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the devil doth thrust them either into desperation or into wretchlessness of most unclean living no less perilous than desperation.

Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth in Holy Scripture; and in our doings that will of God is to be followed which we have expressly declared unto us in the word of God.

Praedestinatio ad vitam est aeternum Dei propositum, quo, ante iacta mundi fundamenta, suo consilio, nobis quidem occulto, constanter decrevit eos, quos in Christo elegit ex hominum genere, a maledicto et exitio liberare, atque ut vasa in honorem efficta per Christum ad aeternam salutem adducere. Unde qui tam praeclaro Dei beneficio sunt donati, illi, Spiritu eius opportuno tempore operante, secundum propositum eius vocantur; iustificatur gratis; adoptantur in filios Dei; unigeniti eius Iesu Christi imagini efficiuntur conformes; in bonis operibus sancti ambulant; et demum ex Dei misericordia pertingunt ad sempiternam felicitatem.

Quemadmodum Praedestinationis et Electionis nostrae in Christo pia consideratio dulcis, suavis, et ineffabilis consolationis plena est vere piis et his qui sentiunt in se vim Spiritus Christi, facta carnis et membra quae adhuc sunt super terram mortificantem, animumque ad coelestia et superna rapientem, tum quia fidem nostram de aeterna salute consequenda per Christum plurimum stabilit atque confirmat, tum quia amorem nostrum in Deum vehementer accendit: ita hominibus, curiosis carnalibus et Spiritu Christi destitutis, ob oculos perpetuo versari Praedestinationis Dei sententiam perniciosissimum est praecipitium, unde illos diabolus protrudit vel in desperationem vel in aeque pernitiosam impurissimae vitae securitatem.

Deinde promissiones divinas sic amplecti oportet, ut nobis in sacris literis generaliter propositae sunt; et Dei voluntas in nostris actionibus ea sequenda est quam in verbo Dei habemus deserte revelatam.

Fr. Laurence Wells

      When we come to Article XVII, we are bound to remember that the Articles of Religion, like the "forty stripes save one" of 2 Cor. 11:24, are widely unpopular among those who profess and call themselves Anglicans.  At this point the distinction between an Apologia for the Articles and a mere exposition tends to break down.  Predestination and Election are words which are likely to raise chills of horror and howls of wrath in our circles, eliciting the ugliest word in the Anglican lexicon.  Calvinism!  I recall a brother priest who kindly took me aside in a pastoral manner to tell me, in the manner of a physician about to share the diagnosis of a loathsome and terminal disease, that he suspected that "you have leanings in an unfortunate direction."  And then there was the Bible study where a layman exclaimed with dismay, "Why that's Calvinism!"  I explained to him that John Calvin was not the author of Ephesians 1 or of Romans 8 and that St Paul was not trained in Geneva.  Burn the Bible if you wish, but do not stone me for telling you what is in it.

      To deal immediately with one widespread myth, we must emphasize that it was not John Calvin who concocted the doctrines of predestination and election.  His view on these matters was not only shared by Martin Luther (a generation ahead of him), but was aggressively taught by St Augustine of Hippo and the entire tradition which flowed from him, a school which included  St. Anselm of Canterbury, St Thomas Aquinas, and another Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bradwardine (1290--1349).  This, of course, was not without controversy in any period. 

      Article XVII was written in 1553, in the earlier Forty-two Articles.  The only significant change effected in 1571, when the Articles took their final form, was the important addition of the phrase "in Christ," within the larger phrase "those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind."  In the mid-sixteenth century were was no great controversy on this matter. After all, England had a strong Augustinian tradition before the names of Luther and Calvin were heard there, and Article XVII could have been written even if the Reformation had never taken place.

      But before the 16th century was out, controversy had broken out throughout Europe, a controversy never resolved in the non-Roman Churches and a controversy which the Roman Church itself did not escape, with the warfare between Thomists and Molinists, and the brief career of Jansenism.

      To summarize some intricate history with a very broad brush, by the end of the following century (that is, by 1699), were at least five forms of the doctrine of predestination in circulation, which remain current today.  Critics and opponents of this doctrine will probably not trouble themselves to determine which form they dislike most.  But here is the list, with brief descriptions.  We will arrange these from one extreme to the other.

      First, we must mention the view which must be termed "hyper-Calvinism."  This does not mean "real Calvinism fervently held and zealously taught."  A hyper-Calvinist is one who maintains that since his eternal destiny is already determined in an absolute way, it makes no difference what he believes or how he lives.  Since the eternal destiny of all mankind is likewise determined, then preaching the Gospel to the heathen is a waste of time.  There are many who impute such a belief to the Augustinian tradition, and it seems to be a cheap and easy way to refute the Calvinist tradition.  Sad to say, there have been, within the Baptistic churches, some who fit the definition of hyper-Calvinists.

      When William Carey was about to embark on his missionary enterprise, he was told, "Sit down, young man; when God wishes to save the heathen, He will do so in His own time and way."  But this is a caricature of what Article XVII teaches.

      Next, there is the slightly more benign view labeled "Supralapsarianism."  While a Supralapsarian believes that God has authorized the preaching of the Gospel to all mankind, he has a hard time explaining why it makes any difference.  In his view, God, before the creation of the world and as an act of pure sovereignty, determined to send some of the human race to heaven and likewise to send the rest of us to hell.  This decree was without regard to sin or to the fall, hence the name Supralapsarian.  In this view, the Fall of mankind was subsequently permitted in order to achieve the one goal of election and reprobation.  This is the view commonly called "double predestination."  While it has had some highly competent exponents (the doughty Karl Barth spoke highly of it), it has never been taught in any of the Reformed Confessions nor has it been the official position of any Calvinist Church.  Even so, most critics of Calvinism imagine this to be the most authentic form of predestination and election.

      The third position, called "Infralapsarianism” asserts that God, having permitted the Fall as a consequence of Adam's free will, found a remedy for this sad state of affairs by choosing some for eternal life and abandoning the rest to their just deserts. God's decree of Election, therefore, is rooted not merely in brute sovereignty but in His love, forbearance, and determination to rescue a portion of His ruined creation.  God decreed the election of certain people not because of anything in them, nor because of any merits they possess, but purely as an exercise of mercy and loving-kindness to undeserving sinners. The doctrine of Election, therefore, turns out to be a doctrine of grace, the sub-floor to the Gospel itself, This is the view which appears to be the one set forth in Article XVII.  With such a gracious and evangelical concept of Divine election, election can indeed be a matter of "sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons."

      A fourth position, closely related to the third, is called Amyraldianism, "hypothetical universalism," or modified Calvinism.  It largely agrees with the Infralapsarian view, but refuses to draw out the perplexing logical corollary that Christ died specifically for the elect.  If Christ died for all in the same way, then at least hypothetically, all mankind may be saved. 

      The fifth position, certainly the most popular and widespread, is that called Arminianism.  The Arminian seeks to do justice to the Biblical texts that God is willing for all men to be saved and that Christ, the Lamb of God, has taken away the sins of the world.  Equally committed to a philosophical concept of "free will," the Arminian position, rather similar to the semi-Pelagians of the Dark Ages, contrived the ingenious notion that if God elected certain men to be saved, He did so on the basis of a "fides praevisa."  In other words, God foresaw who would believe in Christ, and those He graciously elected. 

      In Anglican theology of the 16th and 17th centuries, we can find representatives of the Infralapsarian, Amyraldian, and Arminian schools.  The hyper-Calvinists and Supralapsarians are mentioned here only for the sake of contrast, necessary because so many caricatures and misrepresentations are in circulation.  Critics of the doctrines of Predestination and Election hardly ever show any knowledge of the differences between Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism.  But surely there is a wide chasm between a position which asserts that God's mercy and His wrath are equally ultimate and one which claims that He loved us in His Son before the foundation of the world.

      While it is frequently said that Article XVII does not teach "double predestination," a closer reading of the second paragraph does in fact show a contrast between "godly persons, and such as feel within themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ," on the one hand and "curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ," on the other.  But whereas in the Supralapsarian scheme the decrees of election to salvation and reprobation to eternal death are parallel, in the Infralapsarian, Amyraldian or Arminian view election to salvation to eternal life is rooted in God's own unmerited grace, while reprobation is in fact merited by sin.  Not parallel, but nonetheless double.

      When we narrow the field to the Infralapsarian, Amyraldian, and Arminian positions, it must be noticed that all three hold and teach that "Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God."  Article XVII does not exclude any of these positions.  The key difference, we must declare, is not so much in how "free will" comes into play as it is in the matter of whether God's elect people is a definite number of people, a "numerum clausum" as the Calvinists adamantly maintain, or whether it is an open set, which humans can voluntarily join, as the Arminians would assert.  The apparent weakness of the Arminian position is that it seems to reduce "the Lamb's book of life" to a sign-up sheet for volunteers,  The apparent weakness of the Infralapsarian and Amyraldian positions, on the other hand,  is that they surely seem to verge on philosophical determinism. 

      Perhaps the radical problem, which may tilt the playing-field toward the Infralapsarian position, lies in the question which the disciples put to our Lord (Luke 13:23), "Are they few that be saved?"  It is commonly assumed and sometimes gleefully alleged that theologians of the Pauline-Augustinian-Calvinist tradition teach that only a remnant, a tiny minority of the human race, will be spared God's eschatological wrath and ultimately saved.  While such a view has sometimes been held forth by the gloomier side of Lutheranism, the staunchest defenders of Divine Election have asserted that God's Elect People, those whom He loved before the foundation of the world with an everlasting love, will be a great multitude which no man can number.*  The Princeton theologians were emphatic that the overwhelming majority of the human race will be saved at the last.  Election, after all, is the decree of a truly gracious God.

      While the Arminian emphasis on free well is truly flattering to my prideful ego, I am mindful that my free will has brought me more harm than good, in sin, selfishness and suffering.  When it comes to my own eternal destiny, I feel far safer if it is God's decision and not my own.

*Revelation 7:9

Fr. Robert Hart

      In the above Fr. Wells has been thorough, and has dispelled many myths, and also many simplistic notions. The historical record he has set straight as well, taking the subject out of the exclusive bounds some call “Calvinism.” This is long overdue for many people who imagine that doctrines were newly minted in the Reformation; for, in fact, there were no new doctrines among the Reformers. Old debates were rekindled that had been going on among catholic doctors for centuries.

      Article XVII gives us that special English approach, looking at the old questions with a gracious share of Reason. In words no one can dispute successfully, it teaches us of the grace of God active in the life of a believer, with the words, “such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, etc.” In a very old English manner, it invites each Christian to at least some mystical understanding of what it means to know God, all in terms drawn directly from the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. This it contrasts to the danger for those trapped in the works of the flesh, “curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ.” The contrast should bring to mind the same contrast as St. Paul expressed it in the fifth chapter of Galatians, pitting the works of the flesh against the fruit of the Spirit. The warning that we ought not to set forth continually “the sentence of God's Predestination” before the eyes of carnal persons carries with it the obvious meaning that it is, rather, our duty to urge them to repent and believe; not to presume that we may write them off.

      That the contrast between carnality and walking in the Spirit is related to predestination and election should be indisputable on at least one level. Clearly, no one may simply produce the fruit of the Spirit by an act of free will, for it requires the Spirit of Christ. The Holy Spirit alone creates within each believer His own working, “the working of the Spirit of Christ.”

      Other points in the Article are simply indisputable also. That the doctrine of election “is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort” to people who live by faith, should not be controversial. Against this we may contrast an idea of those who teach that even the greatest saints have had no assurance of salvation. Rather, we see that God has made promises to those who sincerely repent and believe His Gospel, that He provides Absolution within His Church, and bids us come near and receive the spiritual food of the Body and Blood of Christ. These revealed truths should erase all erroneous notions that we may not have some assurance of faith, assurance that “is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort.”

      The Article emphasizes that we have our salvation because we are “in Christ,” echoing the words of St. Paul again: 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” *

      The emphasis remains one of grace rather than something akin to the ugly notion of Kismet, the picture of an unloving God Who simply delights in exercising power to obtain some distorted and twisted kind of “glory.” It has been argued that western man’s exchanges with Islam in the late Middle Ages created an emphasis of the Divine attribute of power over the emphasis of Divine love. Certainly, that cannot help but distort the Biblical picture of predestination and election, robbing us of the beauty as well as of the comfort. It replaces the God Who so loved the world with a devilish god. Some think of that devilish god and of Kismet, and they throw around words they cannot properly define, such as “Calvinism.” But, our Anglican Article XVII emphasizes the grace of God as the basis of predestination and election, not some unfeeling demonstration of power.

        Finally, we are treated to that particular Anglican grace of the practical and pastoral approach, reminding us at the end that God’s general will is revealed in Scripture for our daily living, which means, if we love Him we will keep His commandments.

* Ephesians 1:3-6

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Saturday, January 07, 2012

First Sunday after the Epiphany

Bible Illustration by Gustave Dore'
Because of His Divine Person, in his human nature he is at once like everyone else, and yet not like anyone else

Romans 12:1-5 * Luke 2: 41-52

The focus in this season of the Epiphany is the revelation of the Word made flesh, and beholding his glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Each Sunday, for the first few weeks of this season, we will be told what can be seen, as in beheld, that reveals Divine glory in the man himself, the Lord Jesus. This Sunday is no exception.

Looking at Jesus at the age of twelve, I am reminded of something my friend, David Mills, once wrote in a large email discussion, commenting on the efforts by some writer named Ann Rice to create a biographical sketch of Jesus. About her efforts he wrote; "There is one Person whom we must not try to understand in terms of psychology,"-or words to that effect. How true. We are not in a position to analyze Jesus Christ, or to guess at motivation for his words and actions.

Once I heard the efforts of a priest to create a vivid picture, in some paper he wrote, about the Lord's time growing up and seeing suffering people, and wanting to do something about it, and so forth. He objected, after reading his paper, to my criticism that he had reversed the revelation of Scripture. I told him, "that is not the Word made flesh, but flesh becoming the Word. You have it all backwards." You see, Jesus did not acquire the motivation to become the Light of the World, rather He came into the world as its light. He did not undergo, as we must, a conversion. He came here to save us from sin and death.

"And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world." (John 8:23)

Jesus is the only one who ever came into the world. The rest of us have our origin here. In His Person the Word is with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, eternal, uncreated, beyond our comprehension, hidden from the sight of mortal eye, pure and separate from all sin and evil, unknowable as dwelling in the darkness of mystery and in the radiant light of Divine glory. Every other nature is created, and everything that we can know is from the things that are created. God alone is not created, and therefore no creature shares his nature as without beginning, without end, having neither parts nor passions, utterly transcendent above all we can know or even imagine.

And, so it is that no one ever came into the world except the One who created it. The glory of God is now revealed, and though we cannot comprehend Him in His Divine glory, we can know Him through His Incarnation. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." So, we should not be surprised to find him as a boy, twelve years old, already possessing wisdom that astonishes the most learned rabbis and doctors of the Torah.

Once I heard a man preach from today's Gospel, and he commented on the bit near the end: "And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them." He preached, essentially, that his youth and inexperience had gotten the better of him, and he needed to go home and learn from the older wiser folks. That would be true concerning anyone of us, we who did not come into the world, but are from beneath. Not so the One who is from above, who is not of this world. The human nature he took was real, and was fully human. And, that human nature was able to grow in wisdom and in stature. But, the Person who took to himself fellowship with us by taking human nature, is, properly, God the Son One with the Father. 

The human nature of Jesus was not subtraction (as some have misinterpreted self-emptying), but addition. Added to His eternal uncreated Person is the created nature we share. To fulfill the Law for us, yes he went back to Nazareth and was subject to his adopted father Joseph, and to his mother Mary. And, this he chose willingly, after demonstrating his wisdom by revealing just a little bit of it, and then choosing the way of obedience and humility. This was the choice he made from his internal strength, not dependence due to weakness. Because of His Divine Person, in his human nature he is at once like everyone else, and yet not like anyone else. And, that is what we must learn from today's selection of the Gospel According to St. Luke

This humbling of himself, subjecting himself to parental authority, and remaining from that time out of public view, was all part of that perfect obedience to the Law by which he saved us from sin and death (that is, the Law of God given through Moses). For, in accepting a place of submission and humility, of obedience and even the role of a servant, he was already obedient, eventually unto death on the cross. This has everything to do with the fact that he, the one who had no sin of his own, identified with us, even with us sinners. In time he fulfilled this perfect obedience. 

The curious phrase translated, "How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" is literally, "Why did you look for me? Did you not know I would be with my Father?" Some have rendered it, "in my Father's house?" This was not an enthusiastic youngster getting above himself. This was God the Son reminding them that He was here as the Son, eternally begotten of the Father. Yet, we see him descend, we see him go down from Jerusalem (for from Jerusalem, the Jews saw everything as descent). Today's Gospel reveals the path of descent which He journeyed for us. He went back with them, and was subject unto them, in perfect patience and obedience. This was not a person humbled by circumstance, but rather the Lord choosing to humble himself.

St. 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)

His coming into the world to reveal the glory of God was for you and me. His death on the cross was for you and me, to save us from sin. His resurrection from the dead was for you and for me, to save us from death. And, now we offer ourselves, not as if we did some great thing. Rather it is the service we owe from gratitude.

Today's Epistle says: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." Reasonable service in the Greek is logika latreia (λογικv λατρεία). It is logical, or reasonable, to respond with worship, with liturgy. We will respond even in words, saying in our Holy Communion liturgy, "And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee." 

Today's Epistle also tells us, "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." So, part of this whole logical liturgy of offering our very selves to God is to love Him with all our mind, filling it with the word He has revealed in sacred Scripture, so as to follow the One who came into the world to choose us out of the world; in our minds transformed so as not to conform to the sinful world around us. For, unlike Jesus, we need conversion; we need to change, and we need to be saved from the sin and death of the Fallen world.

It may seem a big thing to give ourselves to God in a reasonable life of worship as living sacrifices; but, in so doing, as we are transformed with renewed minds, what we give back to God is gratitude by obedient cooperation with Him as He saves us from the darkness of sin and death. Even in giving ourselves to Him, we the are ones who receive a gift, the grace to be transformed as children of God unto eternal life.

This is why we focus in this season on who Jesus is. Soon we will focus on what he did for us and does for us. To understand that, we focus on the Word made flesh, and the glory he revealed from within Himself, the glory of His Divine Person.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-9 *  Eph. 3:1-12 * Matt. 2: 1-12
Gustave Dore' Bible Illustartions
The most radical line to be uttered in the ancient world must have been the first of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” It was completely out of the ordinary in the days when the peoples of the earth were expected to worship the local deities; in fact, for Israel to believe that their God was the only true God, and all others were vain, was as out of place amid the pagans of antiquity as a fervent expression of Nationalism would be out of place on the floor of the United Nations. To what degree any of the ancient pagans may have thought themselves to be refined and sensitive, the Israelites must have come across as ill mannered. And, since the Law and the prophets of Israel denounced the practices of some of the religions, such as child sacrifice, it was very clear that the Jews simply were not willing to change with the times, and that they were intolerant.

Furthermore, not only was the God of Israel considered to be the one and only true God to His own people, but the only true God at all. The phrase that is translated “before Me” is quite significant. The Hebrew expression is al peni, and it means “in front of my face.” That might not be so bad for a local god that stayed within his boundaries; but this God had been in Chaldea with Abraham, called him into Canaan, went with the family of Israel into Egypt, and took them back to Canaan. Everywhere He went He was the ruler, showing no regard for the customs and religions of the people, and treating their idea of divinity as vain and silly. He judged the gods of Egypt in the plagues, even by putting out the light of their supreme deity, the sun. So, to have no other gods before Him, that is, in front of His face, the face of the God who is everywhere, is to make the judgment that only the people of Israel, believing in the One God who made Heaven and Earth, have the truth.

Syncretism was expected in the ancient world, a polite recognition of the various gods of the different places where nations settled. If nothing else, it was just bad manners to treat any religion as false, any god as a mere idol, and any practice as an abomination. Of course, when it became necessary to save mankind from the worst kind of paganism, the better kind came to the rescue; the Romans defeated the Carthaginian Hannibal whose army fought to spread the madness of child sacrifice everywhere. And, nowhere does this receive treatment that has better insight than in The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.

But, even the Romans fell short of the Israelite standard, the worship of one and only one God, the maker of all things and judge of all men. They allowed the Jews to worship the God of their fathers only because He was the God of their fathers. They tolerated Jewish intolerance out of respect for its antiquity. But, they persecuted the Christians who converted from among the Gentiles, using the excuse that they were rejecting the gods of their fathers and the worship of Caesar. And, even during the early days of the Christian Church, as recorded in the Book of Acts, the Emperor Claudius sought to banish all Jews from the City of Rome itself. The idea of any religion that could not take an equal place among the devotions to the various gods of the peoples was completely strange to ancient peoples everywhere.

Yet, what we know that the pagans of antiquity did not know, is that the revelation of God to man was a gift and the offer of salvation. Jewish monotheism was intolerant of the gods for the same reason that men of medicine are intolerant of folk remedies. The real trouble with all people everywhere is that two-sided coin of sin and death; so the intolerance of Judaism for idolatry was a necessary first step toward what would become the mission of the Church. Inherent in the first commandment of the Law of Moses is the Great Commission of the Risen Christ. “Thou shalt have no other gods in my presence-before my face” is echoed in the words, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, 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: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (Matt. 28: 19, 20).” It is expressed in the words of Saint Peter, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” Emmanuel, “in ancient times did give the Law, in cloud and majesty and awe,” and now He stood risen from the dead to authorize the Church to go with His presence to all nations, going everywhere among fallen mankind and with all their gods before His face, to root up, pull down and destroy, and to build and to plant. Jesus Christ, after dying on the cross for the sins of the whole world, gave us our commission. He is the only salvation revealed by the only true God, Whom to know is eternal life (John 17:3).

This is the meaning of the wise men coming from afar to worship Him in His infancy. Any other kind of writing would have told us all about these men; where they came from, how large their company really was, and details about the route they took, and alternative route by which they returned. But, sacred scripture was composed by the Holy Ghost, and the focus in the Gospel of Matthew is on Jesus Himself. Therefore, all these interesting details about the Magi have become the study of modern historians and archeologists uncovering a mystery, because the Gospel had no space to give to such minor issues. It focuses attention on the salvation of God in the person of Jesus, and it tells His story. The Holy family’s flight into Egypt and return to Galilee is given the space that follows, and the wise men – or Magi – simply disappear back to the place from which they came. But, their significance is not lost.

Their significance is taken up by Saint Paul in the Epistle we have heard today, about the Jews and Gentiles being made one new man in Christ, the middle wall of division broken down. We, that is those of us whose ancestry is from the Gentiles, are one with the people of Israel through faith in Jesus Christ. A gentile- that is, anybody who is not of Jewish descent- becomes grafted into the heritage of the people of God, made a child of Abraham by faith in Jesus Christ. The truth revealed to the apostles and prophets, as taught in today’s Epistle is this: No Christian is a Gentile. When you were baptized you were taken out of your wild Gentile tree, and grafted into the cultivated tree of Israel.

It is a basic understanding of salvation itself, as Isaiah prophesied that the Root of Israel would grow and blossom and fill the earth, the same earth that is to be “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 27:6, Hab. 2:14)” that upon being made part of the Church, one becomes a part of the Israel of God. By faith Abraham is our father, the Lord is our God, and there is salvation in none other than His Son (Rom. 4:11, Acts 4:12). All of our beliefs are based firmly upon revelation, and not based on even the best speculations of the wisest of men.

The difference between revelation and imagination is the difference between the true God and every idol. Even the unseen and unfelt idols of the mind, housed in the Arian speculations of Muslims and Unitarians of an unrevealed and lonely brand of monotheism that cannot possess the eternal attribute of love because it is alone, is an idol. A god who cannot be seen, touched, heard and even tasted, is the new kind of idol; for, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (John 1:14).” Apart from this revelation of the Wholly Other uncreated God taking our time and space world into His Person; apart from the revelation of this invisible deity found in fashion as a man whose glory is beheld; apart from this unknowable God made known in the Person of the Incarnate Word, there is no salvation. There is no salvation in all of the other gods that men worship before His Face.

We have the Great Commission to spread the knowledge of the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Thou shalt have no other gods in front of His face, for neither is there salvation in any other. The name of Jesus is given under heaven among men, whereby we must be saved. Each of you, as a member of Christ's Body the Church, are called to take your part of this great work that Christ gave to His Church from the beginning, of which prophets had spoken from the dawn of history.