Saturday, July 28, 2012

Eighth Sunday Trinity

Romans 8:12-17 * Matthew 7:15-21

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

The warning of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, is one of many Biblical texts about false prophets. We find this theme throughout all of Scripture, from Moses and the Law right through the Book of Revelation. We see it in the historical books, especially the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. We come across this theme in the books of the true Prophets. Isaiah said, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them (Isa. 8:20).” Jeremiah had his famous prophetic duel with Hananiah (Jer. 28). Amos lived in conflict with the false prophets of Samaria.

In the New Testament, Paul had to warn the Church in Corinth of “false apostles and deceitful workers,” also calling them Satan’s ministers (II Cor. 10 & 11). He warned as well of false gospels, even if preached supposedly by an angel from Heaven (Gal. 1:8,9). He  warned of a time when people would heap up to themselves teachers, “having itching ears (II Tim. 2:4).” So also, Saints Peter, James, Jude, and most strongly, John. For it was St. John who warned of false teachers he called “antichrists,” who teach by the spirit of error and of antichrist (I John chapters 3 & 4). The clear indication is that the Apostles saw the work of demons at the root of it (“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” I Tim. 4:1).  The Book of Revelation warns against joining the world in following the Beast and the False Prophet.

St. Paul gets to the heart of the matter with this simple summary of a false gospel and an imitation Trinity: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if some one comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough (II Cor. 11:3,4 RSV).”

Although, due to some mistaken notion, the first and second commandments were joined together, and the last commandment broken into two parts (to make ten) in old Latin Bibles, the fact is, the first commandment is not about idolatry. It is about false gods. It is, quite literally in modern English, “[You shall have] no other gods in My presence.” (“Thou shalt have none other gods before Me.”).  The commandment against idolatry, that is against worshiping man-made images of gods, is the second commandment. The distinction does matter, because one can have and worship an entirely false notion of God, with or without an idol to bow down before.

What is a false notion of God?

Lets us look again at the words of Jesus concerning false prophets.

“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

Fruits? Where else did Jesus use this image of the good tree and the evil tree, and the fruits of those trees? A little later, in the twelfth chapter of Matthew, Jesus said, “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned (Matt. 12:33-37).”

A false notion of God is an image made by words and ideas. 

It is a matter of self-discipline and honest character, as well as humility, for every teacher and preacher to refrain from offering opinions as the word of God. When St. Paul ventured to give his own advice, in one section of an epistle to the Church in Corinth, he made it clear that he was offering his personal advice and not the commandment of the Lord; then he returned to teaching them what the Lord had commanded (see I Cor. 7). That is, he refused to elevate his own opinion to the same level as revelation. Not everyone has learned from the Apostle’s humility.  Human imagination is boundless, and speculation is endless. But, everything God has revealed can be stated with chapter and verse. Otherwise it cannot be required of anyone to believe as necessary to salvation; and, indeed, may prove “repugnant to the word of God.”

To recognize false apostles, false prophets and false teachers, it is not necessary to study all the cults. When Secret Service agents and bank tellers are taught to recognize counterfeit money, they are not given samples of counterfeits to study. They study real money. So it is with the Gospel and all true doctrine. Don’t waste time studying error. Study the truth, and when bad fruit presents itself in words, you will know the good fruit from the bad.  

The only task before you in this matter is to know the Gospel accurately, to recognize the true Jesus and the Spirit you have received. Then, even under sheep’s clothing, you will recognize a wolf every time.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Not a mouthful

"Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands."
II Timothy1:6

"Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." 
II Timothy 2:2

Even as a child I knew that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican family to which it belonged was, along with the Anglican Communion as a whole, unique in identifying itself as Protestant and Catholic, with Catholic ministers and Protestant priests. I knew that one major thing that distinguished us from other Protestants was the Apostolic Succession of bishops. The phrase readily dripped off the tongue. For some it may have been simplistically understood or, at its worst, treated like some form of claim to nobility, placing our church in a higher class. But, in general, it was appreciated as a genuine link to Christ Himself and His Apostles. 

A few years ago I noticed, when writing for The Christian Challenge, that the Episcopal Church (TEC) of today has chosen a phrase they prefer: "The Historic Episcopate." As with so many phrases that cannot be disputed, it simply goes by unnoticed. It is sort of like their use of "God our Creator and Jesus Christ our Savior" that has become standard with them. It is true; but they use it to avoid saying "God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord." So, to camouflage an ignoble intention, they hide it behind unassailable truth, but only in terms of unobjectionable accuracy masking something unacceptable.

So, by now you may be asking, "What is wrong with saying Historic Episcopate?" Well, in one sense, nothing at all. The episcopate is absolutely indisputable as a fact of history. Indeed, it is so indisputable that any atheist has to acknowledge it. But, that happens also to be the problem. 

When we say "Apostolic Succession," we say a mouthful. The expression carries with it truth deeper than  mere historical fact. It includes the history, but contains so much more. That truth is in a twofold and inseparable combination: Sacrament and Word. 

The sacrament is that of consecration. It is so important that the Church of England and Queen Elizabeth made extra sure that the first Archbishop of Canterbury to be consecrated during her reign, thus establishing Anglican orders for generations to come, was consecrated beyond doubt by men with unquestionably valid orders. This importance is further highlighted by the efforts of enemies to discredit those orders, all vain efforts that no scholar today takes seriously. 

But, those strained efforts at deceit against Anglican validity are a compliment to the care taken for the Consecration of Archbishop Matthew Parker. The sacrament, about which we read St. Paul's words to St. Timothy in the earliest of times, is consistent with the way Moses had ordained Joshua to take his place, and reminds us of Elijah and Elisha also. The laying on of Apostolic hands, for the purpose of handing on necessary gifts and authority, is charismatic, the work of the Holy Spirit in giving grace to fulfill the work and ministry of the office of bishop. 

But, it is possible that TEC has fallen into the trap of contenting itself with a merely Historic Episcopate partly because the sacramental element of Apostolic Succession had come to be nothing more, to some of them, than a relay race; a historical record of who laid hands on who, and nothing more. Also writing to Timothy, Paul warned of those "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power (dunamis) thereof: from such turn away (II Timothy 3:5)." 

"Apostolic Succession" speaks of the power of the Holy Spirit and His gifts. Anyone who knows both our Ordinal and its Preface knows how highly Anglicans have regarded the work of God the Holy Spirit as the true source for all ordained ministry: The words "Receive the Holy Ghost" have been essential in imparting His special grace to all bishops and priests. 

But, I am sure that even the most deluded and misleading of TEC clergy would love to be able to claim the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit; indeed, they blame Him for all their errors, insisting that they are His only true followers. Indeed, "only" because of the new "revelations" they claim as well. No, they haven't dropped the term "Apostolic Succession" from frequent usage because of that. They deny the power, of course, but they do so by denying the essential truth, the truth that His power is present in His Church to confirm.

The part of Apostolic Succession that bothers them is the continuity of Apostolic doctrine to which it commits the bishops, and under their care the work of establishing and defending that doctrine in Christ's Church. Frankly, TEC has not come down with a case of admiral honesty in stepping back from the term "Apostolic Succession." They are not admitting to failure in passing on the pure word of God as taught from the earliest times. Rather, they don't want to pass it on. They really believe they are smarter than the Apostles, and would be embarrassed to teach something as un-stylish as orthodoxy. The true Gospel is not in fashion. They see themselves as far more enlightened than the eyewitnesses of Christ's resurrection, those who had heard from His own mouth, those to Whom He gave clear teaching, clear direction, and an unchanging charge; those to whom he sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

But, Apostolic Succession remains, and it remains for word and sacrament. "The same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" - for all generations to come.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Romans 6:19-23 * Mark 8:1-9

The Epistle for this Sunday picks up a bit after the place where we left off just one week ago. This sixth chapter of Romans is all about baptism and what it is, what it means, and what it has done for us. Modern society has a secular version of documents that were part of old church records, two important certificates. We have death certificates and birth certificates; and when we think of baptism, we should think in that order.       

After all, what is a birth certificate but a secular version of the baptism certificates and the entries from Parish records? In the sacrament of baptism, Saint Paul tells us that our death certificates came first. We are dead with Christ, buried with him in baptism and then raised to new life. This is how we are born again of water and the Spirit, as the Lord taught Nicodemus. In the sixth chapter of Romans you will find your death certificate, and then your birth certificate right after it.  
The call we read about today is based on the fact that we are dead to sin, because we entered into Christ’s own death. In the mystery of salvation, Christ died for our sins, the just for the unjust, to reconcile us to God. And St. Paul makes it clear that we somehow, in a spiritual reality beyond our full comprehension, have entered into his death. So, in baptism we are also born to new life, risen from the dead with Christ, empowered by His resurrection to enter even now into “newness of life,” having even now a power from that new life in Christ that will be given to us fully on the day when He comes again in glory, and we rise to immortality never to die again.        
In the sacrament of baptism we are borrowing from our future, but borrowing without debt from a limitless inheritance that is ours in Christ. It is the opposite of owing interest; the more we borrow from this resurrection life in Christ, the more wealth we lay up and keep forever.

About this very same hope, St. John wrote:

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” (I John 3:1-3)

In a different way, St. John tells us the same thing as St. Paul: we have this hope and so purify ourselves- how? “Even as He (that is, the Lord) is pure.” The holiness St. Paul calls us to, and the purity that is motivated by hope, as St. John tells us, is Christ’s own holiness and Christ's own purity. We are dead with Him, and then are raised with Him, called to live by the hope placed in us already as people of the resurrection.       
This is much more than a Law of commandments. We have the commandments, yes, and we know they have come from God. And, they teach us how to live a righteous life. What the sacrament of baptism has done for us is to give us that other thing that the Law cannot give us, namely grace. The word “grace” is often mistaken simply for “mercy.” Grace is unmerited, yes, because the true meaning of “grace” is gift- from the New Testament Greek word χάρις (charis), that word from which we get “charisma” or “charismatic”, or “charism.” Charism means gift. “Our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life” are charisma; they are all gifts.
And, our new life in Christ is charisma, that is, a gift. The New Testament ties two things together consistently, and those two things that go hand in hand are charisma and dunamis. That is, grace and power; words that often tell us of the working of the Holy Spirit within the believer just as the Holy Spirit worked with our Lord Himself when He performed his miracles.        
This grace that is more than a Law, is more because added to the moral requirement of the Law is the power and grace of the Holy Spirit working within you to live a life worthy of your calling. Not a perfectly sinless life like our Lord lived, no, because although aided with this grace and power, we are yet in our mortal weakness.     
But, nonetheless this is a life in which we are called to be holy, and given grace and power to become holy; more than a law that tells you to live a holy life, you are lifted to a higher place in which you can “walk in newness of life.” You cannot attain perfection in this life; but you can still walk in the Spirit and experience His working within you, transforming you after the pattern of Christ’s own holiness, just as we look to be transformed after the pattern of His resurrection fully and completely when He comes again to raise the dead to everlasting life.    
Why are we called to a life of prayer and to the sacramental life within the Church? Because it is in such a sacramental life of prayer, and of hearing the word of the Lord in scripture, that we may be constantly cleansed and renewed in His resurrection life, and where we are aided by keeping the Lord Himself in focus. In baptism we died with Him, and were raised with Him, and therefore, we are in Christ. Your whole identity is established in baptism; no longer part of the dead race called Adam, but of the living Christ, having passed through His death into His life; given grace and power unto holiness. For that is your calling.          
The Epistles of Paul teach us that the calling of every Christian is the call to become a saint, a holy person. This is the calling of a life marked above all by the virtue of charity, by the holy character of God Himself. Even with the struggles of this world, and the inevitable occasions of failure and sin, the grace given to you empowers you to have this mark of knowing God even now, as we await the fulness of our salvation. The real question is, will you let Him change you and, will I let Him change me, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds?
In the Gospel for today, we see that the people in the wilderness could not feed themselves. In the miracle of the loaves and fishes, in which the Lord once again fulfills the prophecy from Deuteronomy of the prophet like unto Moses, we are taught that He meets our greatest need. The truth is, we all need the food of eternal life, because we cannot keep ourselves alive. The bread they ate that day was miraculous, like the manna in the wilderness that fed the children of Israel for forty years.      
How could we read of the food He gave them in the wilderness, the desert wilderness in fact, and not think of the food of eternal life that He gives us? Indeed, when St. John recalls the miracle, He lets us know that the Lord used this miracle to teach that He Himself is the Bread of Life, and that to live forever we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Such talk was a scandal to many of the people, and they never walked with Him again.
It may seem as if they turned from Him because the idea sounded crazy- and yet, they had to know that He spoke of a spiritual reality. He was telling them that their truest and deepest need is for Him, the One Who is God revealed in our own nature. He took our limited human nature into His unlimited Person, our finite nature into His infinite Being, our time into His eternity, our weakness into His strength, and our death into His life. Indeed, we must feed on Him in order to live. Christ Himself, as the Lord God Almighty - one with the Father and the Holy Spirit - tells us “I AM the provision that meets your greatest need. You must feed on Me and live forever.” So we have this Blessed Sacrament, the wonderful mystery of the food and drink of eternal life. We feed on Him in this sacrament; and we feed on Him by His word.
Today’s scriptures are about our salvation. What does our Catechism tell us? It tells us that two of the sacraments are “generally necessary for salvation.” Five sacraments appear in the Old Testament (as I can quite easily demonstrate), but the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion of our Lord’s Supper, are sacraments that impart life eternal and that have been established by Christ Himself when He walked this earth (“sacraments of the Gospel” –Art. XXV). We can speak of the Law of commandments, but St. Paul tells us that, as holy and good as the Law is, we need grace in order to live the life that is given in Christ.       
You were given the new birth from death into life by baptism, having become a new creation in Christ Jesus. And now you must feed on the Lord Jesus Christ who meets your greatest need in this our wilderness of sin and death, and by feeding on Him in faith live forever. In every way you have been given every gift you need to rise above sin and death, to be saved from sin and death, to enter into life, and to have life enter into you. You are in Christ, and you receive Him as the food and drink of eternal life. That is grace. That is power.         
As you hear His word feed on Him by believing. When you come forward this day toward the altar to receive the Blessed Sacrament, feed on Him by taking Him into your very mouth; and so also feed on Him in your hearts by faith and with thanksgiving.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles

Article XXII

Of Purgatory

The Romish doctrine concerning Pugatory, Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God.

De Purgatorio

Doctrina Romanensium de Purgatorio, de Indulgentiis, de veneratione tum Imaginum tum Reliquiarum, nec non de Invocatione Sanctorum, res est futilis, inaniter conflicta, et nullis Scripturarum testimoniis innititur; imo verbo Dei contradicit.

Fr. Robert Hart 
            In the sixteenth century, Reformers in the West had to deal with the entire subject of salvation from sin and death by recovering the Biblical doctrine, that same doctrine the ancient Church had protected from the onslaught of heresies. At certain times the defense of the Gospel required a clear statement about Who the Savior is, either by defending the truth that He is Divine (as at Nicea in 325) or by defending the truth that He became fully human (as at Chalcedon in 451). The need for fallen mankind, sinners all, to be saved by God’s grace also needed to be defended, most clearly, as we look back, when Augustine refuted the teaching of Pelagius. Pelagius was a British heretic, and the substance of his error was that Man can save himself without the grace of God.
            In the sixteenth century the teaching of justification, a very real subject of doctrinal clarity in the New Testament, had been obscured. The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls each person to faith and repentance, turning not merely from a few sins here and there, but from all willful sin by a radical turning to God. And, it calls each person to a life of faith, and with it a readiness to die safely in that faith. It replaces terror of the grave with hope of the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. But, a doctrine had developed, and as the term “development of doctrine” implies, as opposed to the meaning of revelation, it developed with the all the inherent dangers created by the imagination of fallen men.
            Instead of the Gospel of Christ, with its clear call that “Today is the day of salvation (II Cor. 6:2),” a strange religion had sprung up that called for “Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints,” as a means of shortening one’s time in Purgatory. Instead of turning to God with the hope of complete forgiveness, the average Western European Christian looked for ways to shorten a time of suffering after death. Instead of being saved from sin and death, with the danger of eternal damnation as one possibility and eternal life with God as the only other possibility (John 5:28,29), the average person living with that developed doctrine sought merely to shorten time of suffering, or to prepare for no way to avoid a long period of suffering.
            Along with this the power of the papacy over the minds and fears of the people was increased, as the doctrine of “The Treasury” of saintly merits was supposedly in the pope’s hands alone to dispense. It was this teaching, specifically, that caused the error of Indulgences to become so grave that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door. And, for that courageous stand, he was hounded by the pope who sought to have him killed for it. 
            Make no mistake. On the subject of that “Romish doctrine” the Anglican Reformers stood solidly on the same side as Martin Luther. For that is the only side of the issue that is consistent with the Bible, and the stand that all of the Church Fathers would have taken. The religion of Western Europe, that of “The Romish doctrine concerning Pugatory, Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints,” all centered on shortening the sentence, was completely unknown to them. It had nothing to do with the Christianity they knew in the ancient Church.
Proper use of the word Purgatory?
            However, if by Purgatory one means a process of purification that finishes in some way the incomplete process of sanctification, then it becomes another matter altogether. It is not possible for the work of sanctification, that is, the work of the Holy Spirit to transform each believer into a saint (i.e. holy person), to be complete in this fallen world. Furthermore, until we are clothed with immortality on the Last Day, and given our full share in His resurrection life, we will not be perfected. What does that include? Might it include some degree of suffering? Might the change of nature itself involve some kind of suffering as it gives way to perfect and eternal joy? We could speculate endlessly, but none of our speculation amounts to revelation.

“And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming,” and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master's will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more (Luke 12: 42-48 RSV).’”

            The last lines from this passage have been cited as a Scriptural justification for Purgatory. But, the context is not so promising, as the servant who decides in favor of willful sin is placed among “the unfaithful.” Looking at this passage honestly, it is also clearly referring to the Day of Judgment, the Last Day, when He comes again. It cannot be used to speak of any time at all, for time, as we know it, will be no more.
            However, if we use the word “purgatory” to imply hope for purification, as in taking a bath and putting on clean clothes before entering the King’s presence, then such a hope is certainly not the same as “The Romish doctrine” that the Reformers sought to correct, “a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God.” The problem with the word "Purgatory" then is the association it generally carries with that old Roman doctrine. The idea that God, to be just, must assign us "temporal punishment" for sins, even though they are forgiven in some larger sense, makes a complete mockery of the cross. It is not a "Pious Belief." After all, no “Pious Belief” can be “repugnant to the word of God.”
            Again, the version of Purgatory for which Anglicanism provides no toleration is not the idea of purification (which some might call "Purgatory"), but specifically "the Romish doctrine," that is, the idea that justice requires a punitive process. The term "temporal punishment" means that Purgatory exists strictly to satisfy the requirements of the Law, not to perfect or even help the soul. The desire of the soul for purification, that bath and clean clothes, becomes irrelevant in this distorted, legalistic debtor's prison in which we supposedly pay to God the debt we owe. Indeed, if it were for the good of the soul, why the Treasury, and the indulgences, and so forth, that shorten the time? The whole notion of purification for the good of the soul is simply not “The Romish doctrine” that enslaved minds all over Europe at that time. That doctrine turned God into a legalistic magistrate, someone who simply wants His pound of flesh rather than the Father who has given His only begotten Son to save us.
Contrary to the Gospel
            Whereas purification is an idea we can all be glad for (especially if we see it also as grace), the idea that Christ paid for our sins only in part, and that justice requires a further "temporal punishment" denies the sufficiency of Christ as the Propitiation for our sins. And, if it denies the sufficiency of His sacrifice and death, it denies Him as God in the flesh. If saints, by their alleged merits (another serious problem) can make up for some insufficiency in Christ's sacrifice with further partial payment, than the concept brings Christ down to the level of His creatures who have needed and received His grace. It almost seems as bad as listing the Lord among His saints as a mere equal. 
            That the publican in the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14) goes home justified (δικαιόω, dikaioō ) is no small matter. The whole theological meaning of justification is of major importance in the New Testament, and the theme receives its greatest development by St. Paul. It is obvious that Paul builds his meaning on the same understanding of justification that is very clear in this parable. On the cross, as He died, Jesus uttered the word τελέω (teleō), which takes three English words to say: “It is finished (John 19:30).” In those days, when Greek was the international tongue, the word τελέω was written on a final receipt of payment; so we may conclude that the usage of the word was meant to convey not only the completion or perfection of a thing, but full payment. Christ has paid in full for it all, for “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:2)."
            No one else could pay for our sins (Psalm 49:7), because everyone else, even the saints, are all sinners themselves. The saints have received grace, including the grace to acquire virtues; Christ alone of all mankind has merits of His own. Furthermore, because of Who it is that died for us, no further payment is needed. And, if it is paid in full and we are justified, how could God be just in requiring yet more, as if we could imagine the Father finding fault with the sacrifice and death of His only begotten Son? He would be unjust; but as it is, God is "just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Romans 3:26)."

God alone
            As for the phrase, “Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints” that seems to have been in the context of Purgatory, we may take “Pardons” to mean the doctrinally developed error of Indulgences. The word “indulgences,” acquired the meaning that I defined above rather than its true ancient meaning of being excused by the bishop from church disciplines for specific reasons (i.e. excused from fasting for an individual’s health). Instead it had come to mean pardons from “temporal punishment” by means of the worship and invocation mentioned in what directly follows.
            It must be remembered that the ancient Church, even in the Seventh Ecumenical Council (or Second Council of Nicea in 787) that condemned the teaching of the Iconoclasts, never approved of giving that special worship properly reserved only to God, namely λατρεία (latreia), to anything or anyone else. So, again, the English Reformers in their opposition to “The Romish doctrine” were defending the genuine and authentic Catholic Tradition, namely the beliefs set forth in Holy Scripture. And, so it was in many other things, which is what these Thirty-Nine Articles were all intended to do.

Fr. Laurence Wells
This, I suppose, is the point in the Articles where we might have a real donnybrook between those who understand Anglicanism as Tridentinism Lite (a genteel version of the Baltimore Catechism) on the one hand and the rest of us on the other.  To lay the groundwork for such an engagement at least two things must be said.  First, the Articles, especially Article XXII, were addressed not to the theology of the schools but to the popular religion of the day.  If this seems unfair, we must recall that this popular religion was the religion of the masses, a debased religion which stood as a barrier between the Gospel and those for whom Christ died.  Secondly, the Articles occasionally engage in rhetorical flourishes  which modern readers find abrasive. 
If one looks at the Latin version, it is a little clearer that this Article says “The Romish doctrine …. Is a fond thing, vainly invented.”  Purgatory, etc, as popularly understood are examples of a religion “grounded upon no warranty of Scripture.”  So the purpose of Article XXII is not to attack this or that point of Roman doctrine, but to assert the absolute primacy of Scripture.  When the Church sits loose to the authority of Sacred Scripture, then it quickly descends into a state of spiritual decadence like that described in the Canterbury Tales.  Apologists for the pre-Reformation Church will not care to read of Chaucer’s Pardoner, hawking his feathers plucked from the wings of the Holy Ghost and other dubious relics.
We must allow that a Biblical case can be made (and has been made) for a number of things which the Articles condemn.  There is a Biblical doctrine for the Intermediate State between our death and the General Resurrection (for which the name “purgatory” seems malapropos).  Likewise, one might find a devout use of holy relics and religious art not inconsistent with the Bible.  It is not necessarily superstitious to say, “St ----, pray for us.”   The Puritan Westminister Confession asserts the “communion of saints” more glowingly than any edition of the Book of Common Prayer, and the Puritan Richard Baxter wrote:
            Ye blessed souls at rest
            Who ran this earthly race
            And now, from sin released,
            Behold the Saviour’s face,
            God’s praises sound
            As in his sight
            With sweet delight
            Ye do abound.

While this Article might require a decree of balance and nuance, its central point remains solid and critical.  Scripture is normative, Scripture is supreme, Scripture is final.

While the notion of Purgatory is a subordinate issue in this Article, I will insert a modest footnote to Fr Hart’s excellent discussion.  There are surely few Anglicans who would attempt to defend the popular mediaval notion of the intermediate state, the horrible idea  of suffering temporal penalties as yet not paid.  When one examines the mercifully brief discussion of Purgatory in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he might be reminded of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, a thing which gradually vanished so that all that was left was the smile. 
But I must confess my private skepticism with the theory popular these days among many Anglicans, that between death and the General Resurrection we must undergo further sanctification. Many state this in terms of personal humility:  “A terrible sinner like me must have a thorough scrubbing before I can enjoy the beatific vision.”   Again, pious as this sounds, it betrays a very bad theological method, the route of speculation rather than the way of exegesis. A Bibical basis for this idea is surely lacking.  Our American Prayer Book in its 1928 revision added a phrase to the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church, “grant them continual growth in thy love and service,” with similar petitions in the Order for the Burial of the Dead.  But this was a 20th century novelty.  The revisers would have done better to confine themselves to the 1549 language, “Grant unto them, we beseech thee, thy mercy and everlasting peace,”  which is well grounded in 2 Tim. 1:18. 
The fanciful idea of a “through scrubbing” in the afterlife raises an unnecessary question about the power of God, who is able to give us perfect holiness and purity immediately after we depart this world.
It also contradicts what St Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, concerning those still alive at the Second Coming.  “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”  Here is the Gospel lying before us:  Not a “thorough scrubbing” in some incorporeal realm, but the victory of God in the resurrection of His Son.
The Reformation doctrine was surely the Biblical doctrine.  The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.  

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Luke 5: 1-11When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man... and Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.

To come face to face with God, in such a way that we recognize Him, brings us to the realization of our own unworthiness, of our own sins. We know from the Gospel of John that Simon had already met Jesus, and was aware that He was a holy man. Andrew, Simon’s brother and partner in their fishing business, had declared his belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Simon was ready and willing, as we see, to defer to Jesus, to give Him use of his boat, and even to follow His instructions about a matter that must have been, as this fisherman would have thought, outside the expertise of a carpenter and rabbi. Nonetheless, at the Lord’s word, out of respect for Him, and perhaps out of affection for Andrew as well, Simon Peter went out and let down the nets, despite what a wasted effort fishing proved to have been all night long. But, in what happened next he saw that this Rabbi was in command of nature, and that even the fish in the Sea obeyed Him.
The Old Testament has a companion text, in the sixth chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah. Like Simon Peter, Isaiah was going about his daily routine. The vision he saw took him by surprise. As he wrote it:         

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. And He said unto me, Go and tell this people Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.” (Isaiah 6:1-11)    

He saw the Lord, and heard the angels cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy” - three times crying “holy;" once for each Person, for the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Because he saw God, Isaiah was aware of his own sins. “Woe is me. I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips..” As Simon, centuries later, would fall down at the knees of Jesus, saying “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man,” we see that Isaiah was suddenly overcome by the knowledge that he was not worthy to be in the presence of the Holy God of Israel. Isaiah already knew, as later Simon also knew, that God is holy; and each of them knew of his own shortcomings; and even though centuries apart, each of them was, in his own time, suddenly face to face with God. Face to face with the Holy God who is like a refiner’s fire- indeed, as everyone will be if only at the Last Day, when He comes again in glory to judge the quick and the dead.
The angels in the temple cried “the whole earth is full of His glory.” We can go about our daily lives in great comfort, in a state of relative calm, because the idea of the Lord upon a heavenly throne keeps Him just a bit distant, maybe even too far away to notice the every day sins we allow ourselves to get away with- or so we think. But, Isaiah saw Him upon the earth, the earth that was, as he heard the angels say, “full of His glory.” That glory was not only an ethereal glory, for he saw God, present here in this world. The temple, as he knew, was the place of God’s presence, but hidden behind a veil in the Kadesh h’ Kadeshim- the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest could go, once a year and not without blood. With God in heaven and behind a veil, life feels safe. "God is in his heaven, All's right with the world." Even the temple felt comfortable as long as God kept His distance, safely behind the veil. But, suddenly Isaiah saw Him, not only as the God of heaven. He saw the Lord here on earth.   
One might even ask, what was God doing here where, surely, He doesn’t belong? It is most unsettling. So, with Simon Peter, the Lord is not any longer only behind the veil, or hidden away on His heavenly throne. He is here, present in the flesh, standing before Peter in his own boat. Into this little wooden craft- a whole world of daily work, sweating, toiling and all the anxieties of normal life, where Peter and Andrew were accustomed to their routine- comes the Shekinah, the visible presence of God, the Word made Flesh. Like Isaiah centuries before, it was terrifying for man to see that God is here, on earth, present in the world, and present in our own world. Like Isaiah of old, Peter knew one thing above all else at that moment. He was a sinner, a man of unclean lips, not worthy of this Presence before which he found himself.     
And, that is a good place to begin. When people are influenced by New Age thinking, that, as they think, a thing called spirituality is better than a thing called religion, their outlook is clouded. A culture that cannot accept moral standards, with churches that no longer teach the commandments of God, exalts a morally neutral concept, a thing called “spirituality.” “Spirituality”- a word without definition and context- should ring hollow in your ears, as Christians. When you hear people speak of being spiritual, without the effort to be holy- if I may borrow a popular phrase from the movie world- they give in to the Dark Side.        .......“Spirituality” can be a morally empty word, especially if we consider that Satan has been a spirit far longer than any of us have been alive. We need to remember instead that Saint Paul, in his epistles, tells us that all Christians have one vocation in common. No matter who we are, we are all “called to be saints.” That is, called to become holy. In comparison, it is the easy way out to choose a thing called “spirituality” instead of this revelation about the Christian life and vocation. And, as we see, the only way to start on the path to holiness is by seeing the truth about our own sins in light of the fact that God is present here on earth. The earth is full of His glory- therefore full of His presence. It is so whether we see His glory or fail to see it.
When Isaiah said “Woe is me” and when Peter said “Depart from me,” each man suddenly very aware of God’s holiness, and each convicted of his own sin in the light of that holiness and awful Presence, the answer to each came in the call to ministry. Forgiveness was more than implied; cleansing and purification were also more than implied. We are reminded every time we have this service of Holy Communion, that the full price for our sins was paid by Christ Himself, and that forgiveness is no mere sentimental thing; it was granted to us by His suffering and death on the cross. But, also, we are called to ministry- that is, to service. Now, not all Christians are called to the Ordained ministry, obviously.    
But, as the Epistles of Saint Paul point out, we have all been given gifts by which we serve God, serve one another and both show forth and tell His word to the world around us. It is an old tradition to refer to the sacrament of Confirmation as the ordination of the Laity. That sacrament is not a rite of passage, or simply a ticket to Holy Communion. Based upon the Book of Acts, the theology of Confirmation is this: through laying on of the apostle’s hands the Holy Ghost is given. In short, that means that when you were confirmed you were given gifts from Christ, concerning which you yourself may be unaware. You, each of you who have received that sacrament, are carrying precious treasure in an earthen vessel, each one bearing Christ Himself, to show forth by deeds, and in some cases by words, wisdom and power that do not come from your own strength.
And, in another mystery, here today we come face to face with God. The bread and the cup of which we will soon partake are the Body and Blood of Christ. We dare not approach them except we first, with hearty repentance and true faith, confess our sins, and hear the words of forgiveness. And so, we need not say to Christ “depart from me” because we know that in confessing and forsaking our sins we find mercy. We are about to have communion with the Incarnate and Risen Christ in a mystery beyond our understanding. He is not simply hidden away in heaven. He is here on earth, both in the little boat of your daily life as well as in the temple of our prayers. He has made known His presence, ultimately as He has come in the Flesh, died and risen again; and He has sent His Holy Spirit to empower His Church with gifts of service. And, He comes this morning in the Blessed Sacrament, in gifts and creatures of bread and wine that become His Body and Blood.   
When you return from the house of the Lord into the daily common places, the fishing boats of your life, remember that upon seeing His glory and receiving His cleansing, you have heard His call. By the life you live this week, among all sorts and conditions of men, you are going out to tell this people. As Christ our Lord said to Peter on his boat, we may hear Him say to us. “Fear not.” We are henceforth going out to catch men.

Monday, July 02, 2012

A Parishioner's Art

One of the members of my Parish, technically a Catechumen preparing for baptism, is an artist. Her name is Di Mathews. She and her husband, Bob, create and sell high quality digital paintings. Over the past year or some of her work has expressed specifically Christian themes, as part of her journey.

Both Bob and Di use Realist and Symbolist genres, among others, and emphasise sensitivity to and respect for the natural environment. Much of Di's work involves amazingly detailed representations of small creatures: often the kind that are not cute or fluffy, so to speak. Bob's abstract works integrate religious, psychological and scientific themes.

A recent example of Di's artwork can be found here. The artist's statement accompanying the work is, in my opinion, excellent. It is catechesis in itself.

Our readers may well enjoy browsing other pages on that blog site and its links to their related art sites.

Trinity 4 Sermon Notes

I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us.+

I'm entitling this sermon, “What you want, versus what will bring you joy”. Many times in life, we will desire something. Sometimes, we will desire it quite strongly. We don't get it, and we are disappointed. Then, much later perhaps, we may see that what we wanted would not have been good for us anyway, was a disaster we were blessed to avoid, or was inferior to what we finally got. You see, much of what we desire we desire for what we imagine it will be, rather than what it really is. Our imaginations have so little to go on, and so much freedom, that it is easy for us to have an idealised view of the object of our hankering. That is why one of God's greatest mercies can be answering “No” to our prayers!

But it is also the case that many experiences we would choose to avoid, if we had the choice, are the things that bring us wisdom, growth, sympathy and so, in the end, greater happiness. Now, imagine you put two boxes in front of someone and say, “Box A will lead to a life of wealth, luxury and ease. Box B involves suffering and struggle, but enough resources to keep you going. Choose one.” “Box A, Box A! I choose Box A!!!” will be the natural reply. But what if you then said, “Whoa there, hang on, before you make your final choice, be aware that Box A will lead to fewer real friends, but many fair-weather friends, and you will probably become addicted to shallow pleasures and inclined to foolishness and carelessness regarding others, and to never being satisfied with what you've got. Box B, on the other hand, will lead you to becoming a better and more genuinely respected person, and you will know deeper friendships and greater insights. Now what do you pick?”

And that is a good question. What will people pick? Truth be told, many will still want to pick Box A, and some will still pick it with hardly a second thought: “Shallow pleasures, yeah baby, that's what I'm talking about. Who needs friends?!?” Following the thought processes of most others is not too hard. “I know I'm supposed to pick B, I probably ought to pick B, … but … but ...” What would be rare, if this was a real choice with real consequences, that your whole life depended on, would be the person who was able to pick B without delay or uncertainty.

Similarly, if you said to a Christian that Box A was a mediocre but relatively painless life of faith, with few big sins, and just as few great virtues or works, while Box B meant great wisdom, sanctity, and heavenly reward, yet also martyrdom, the choice would not be an easy one for most. Fortunately, God does not give us such explicit choices very often. We are blessed that he often just gives us the right box, though we may not think so at the time. We are also blessed usually not to know ahead of time exactly what is in the box!

However, there is a sense in which we have to make the choice all the time. We want to hold onto our money and our grudges, but today's Gospel tells us that the way to abundant life is generosity and mercy. We want to criticise the faults of others and complain about their stupidity or wickedness, but the Gospel reminds us that we need to shine the searching light on our own souls first, to get some perspective. We want to avoid all pain, but the Epistle says some pain is the path to a reward that is infinitely greater. We want to be satisfied now, if not sooner, but the Epistle talks about “waiting”. (How many men and women have been destroyed by “get rich quick”-schemes? Even in earthly matters, patience is a virtue, and an essential one.)

And it's worth noting that while some of the benefits of Box B are in the next life, some of them are in this one. Jesus in today's Gospel is not referring only to God rewarding us, but what “men” will “give” us. 
Nevertheless, it's in the light of eternity that we see the true value of things. And Judgement is certain.

So, let us invest in eternity by picking Box B. Put people above possessions. Accept unpopularity for the sake of integrity, and persecution for the sake of God's truth. Build up people rather than tear them down, even though the latter is easier. Don't push for quick fixes, but wait and work hard for lasting ones. And seek God above all, for only he can bring us ultimate joy. +