Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Click the link here for a sermon. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11 * Psalm 80 * Phil. 4:4-7 * John 1:19-28
With Christmas so close at hand it may seem a little difficult to go through even one more Sunday of Advent. We want to burst forth into the next season and rejoice. Well, very soon the time for that will be upon us (in fact at sundown this Christmas Eve). Right now, however, it is time to think through the meaning of today’s scriptures for the last Sunday in Advent, and not to miss it.

Again we are given that mysterious image of John the Baptist, the burning and shining light who bore witness by his life and death to Jesus Christ. “He must increase, and I must decrease,” said this prophet, this man whose unique vocation was that he bridged the Old Testament and the New. Two weeks ago we saw that all of the scriptures bore witness to Jesus Christ; and now, this last prophet of the Old Covenant bears direct witness to Christ, baptizing Him, and seeing the Spirit of God come upon Him as a dove out of Heaven. This last prophet of the Old Covenant is the first prophet of the New Covenant. The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert (Isa. 43: 19).” God called this prophet, this unique prophet, to show that the new thing, the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet (Jer. 31:31f) was upon them. John’s father was a priest under the Law of Moses, a descendent of Aaron. Therefore, John was also, by that Law, a priest. Yet, John the son of Zechariah, went into the desert to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord.”

Advent is about the last things, and especially meant to remind us that Christ will come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead, to make the heavens and the earth new, and to rule forever on His throne, surrounded by saints whom He has redeemed from sin and death to rule forever with Him. But, as we have seen, instead of having us read the many passages of scripture that deal very directly with eschatology- the study of the end- the Gospel readings appointed by the Church give us a glimpse of Christ’s second coming by reminding us of events that happened when He came at first. The first week we saw that His kingdom brings judgment on the very House of God in the midst of the holy city, and cleanses it by driving out those who defiled it by their willful sin, cheating the people on holy ground. The picture ought to inspire the healthy fear of God, and to make us repentant and resolute to live in such a way that we will be among those who remain in His house forever, instead of being driven out to spend eternity in outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And now, thanks to the wisdom of the Church, we are reminded of the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord by preaching repentance and cleansing. John the Baptist bridged the Testaments and prepared the way for Christ by offering hope, by giving sinful people a chance to start over again. The sinners who came to him were given a new beginning, hope and cleansing- themselves cleansed rather than tossed out, as the Lord tossed out the money changers when it was the temple that He cleansed. In other words, the vocation of John the Baptist was to prepare people to see Jesus as the Messiah, and the preparation was repentance, the only way to be prepared to meet the Lord. The Advent message of repentance is necessary.

Modern popular religion tells everyone that they need not repent of their sins, but rather that everyone is accepted with all of their ungodly baggage. The truth is, some churches are simply helping people go to Hell, due to the false teaching of Satan’s ministers. The truth is, the real ministry of the Church is the most important and serious thing in the world. Here we deal with things more important than mere life and death. We speak and administer the word and sacraments that have to do with eternal destiny. We give out both a warning and hope: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Now, about the comings of Jesus Christ, and the life of this mysterious John the Baptist, we should dig a little deeper. The word “Christ” is from the Greek for the Hebrew word Meshiach, or as we pronounce it in English, “Messiah.” We have come to call the Lord by two names more than all others, Jesus and Christ. The one means Salvation- Y’shua. The other means “the anointed” – Meshiach. The implication is the Old Testament expression, “the Lord’s Anointed.” This comes with two pictures, as the word "messiah" is sprinkled generously throughout the pages of the Old Testament. The word speaks of priests and kings, and the anointing comes by the hand of a prophet.

The first men to be called meshiach were the brother of Moses, Aaron the High Priest, and his sons the priests. The King James Bible uses the phrase “the priest that is anointed.” The original Hebrew is h’ kohan h’ meshiach- “the priest the messiah.” The second class of men to be called messiah (meshiach) are the kings. David would not stretch forth his hand against Saul, because he was “the Lord’s anointed.” That is, the Lord’s messiah. Every priest was a messiah, and every king was a messiah. And, yet, the scriptures clearly speak of the one Man who would be both priest and king, and who would be the only hope of the whole world, H’ Meshiach- The Messiah. So, first Messiah is the priest, and then after that He is the King.

Jesus Christ’s two comings are foreshadowed in these pictures. First he came as priest. The Epistle to the Hebrews is the most explicit New Testament book that tells of Christ’s priestly ministry when he came the first time, and does so in light of the hope of those who look for His second appearing. As the priest He offered Himself as the sacrifice. The Book of Leviticus tells us clearly how a priest made kippur, that is atonement, for a repentant sinner who confessed his sin to the priest and brought a sacrifice. The real meaning is that the priest himself is the atonement, and offers the animal because he cannot sacrifice himself. This is a type and shadow of Jesus, who did offer Himself as priest and sacrifice when He came the first time. The importance of the Suffering Servant passage to the clear New Testament proclamation of atonement cannot be overstated. You will find it in the 53rd chapter of the Book of Isaiah. “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.”

This Suffering servant, after His death in their place, rises and takes up a ministry of intercession for sinners. “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” A dead man cannot prolong his days unless he rises again. In this passage, His death and resurrection are priestly, because he dies as the one true sacrifice, the atonement, and after rising “he ever lives to make intercession for them,” that is, for those who come to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25). The Old Testament sacrifices on those altars foreshadowed His true sacrifice, just as our sacrifice on this altar, in which nothing is killed, proclaims it. In fact, there is only one Eucharist (or Holy Communion or Mass – it’s all the same), and always when it is offered anywhere in the world by the Church, it is joined to the one true sacrifice on Calvary.

When He comes again, the image of Messiah as King will be fulfilled in all of its glory. This is the terror of all that is evil, and it is the hope of the Church. It is a certainty that he will come on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, to establish Heaven on Earth, to rule and so grant peace forever. Both Testaments speak of His coming as the King Messiah. Daniel saw one coming in the clouds of Heaven as the Son of man to rule with the Ancient of Days; Moses saw that “the Earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Our eternal hope is not based upon imagination and conjecture, but upon the sure promise given in and by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We are given the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the Last Day.” It is the only such hope, and it is impossible to separate that hope from Jesus Christ, because immortality, the hope of eternal life, is ours only through His resurrection. So writes Saint John about those who, due to this hope, purify themselves: “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 (I John 3:2).”

John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord by his message of repentance. Pondering these pictures of the Messiah as priest and King we are both warned and encouraged with both fear and hope. This is the meaning of Advent. It is of eternal consequence that we give heed.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Third Sunday in Advent

I Corinthians 4:1-5 * Matthew 11:2-10

Our Collect today contains this petition: “Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight.” These words remind us that the prophet, St. John the Baptist, prepared the way for the Lord’s ministry in Israel by preaching repentance from sin, and by inviting the people to come into the waters of a mikvah, a ritual bath of cleansing that the Greek New Testament calls baptisme, that is, baptism.

It draws from two sources, the book of the prophet Malachi and the Gospel of St. Luke. Malachi said: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”1 In the Gospel of Luke the angel Gabriel expounds on this passage of scripture when he announces to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, about John: “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”2 To understand why the Lord told Peter, James and John, as they came down from the Mount of Transfiguration that Elijah had already come and suffered the fate that would be dished out to the Son of Man, and why he tells the crowd to whom he speaks in today’s Gospel reading (a little further on), “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come,”3 you have to pay attention to what the angel said. John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy, because it was not really a prediction that Elijah would come himself, but that this other prophet would come in the spirit and power that had rested on that Old Testament prophet. Only this time, the Ahab and Jezebel of the period, namely Herod and Herodius, would kill the prophet, John, who confronted their sin; something that the Old Testament king and queen could not do to Elijah.
Where does this phrase come from: “and he shall turn the hearts…?” The very concept of a prophet who turns the hearts comes from that story in the first book of the Kings where Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal. The people of the Northern kingdom of Israel were filled with terrible confusion, having the religion of Baal worship all mixed up with the worship of the true and living God of their fathers (and seemed to have forgotten the golden calves of Jeroboam). Baal worship is the same as the worship of Molech, the god to whom agonized parents would offer their own children in sacrifice, because by this religion they were deceived into a dreadful compulsion.

The people of the Northern kingdom of Israel in Samaria were lost in Baal worship due to the evil queen Jezebel and the weakness of her husband Ahab. Elijah called together the prophets of Baal and challenged them to a supernatural contest. They agreed, and the contest was to see who had the power to bring down fire from heaven to consume an offering. From morning until noon the prophets of Baal called on their god, finally waxing so desperate they resorted to cutting themselves. Elijah called a halt to the spectacle, and summoned the people to gather to him. He made it hard on himself by pouring a large amount of water in a trench around the altar and the dead animal, just to show that no fire could be lit by natural means. Then he prayed:

“LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.”4

There we see that phrase about the turning of the hearts, the work that God did through his prophet Elijah. The scripture goes on to say:

“Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.”

This is how their hearts were turned back by the prophet Elijah, back to the God of their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Some modern Bibles have quite dishonestly rendered the Hebrew word for “fathers” in the book of Malachi as “parents.” This is completely unjustified. The word does not mean parents, it means fathers, specifically and clearly. When the ideology of the zeitgeist is allowed to interfere with Bible translation, the results cannot be good. Nothing is more disastrous than loss of fatherhood from homes, and in a larger sense, from a society. The father is the protector and provider, above all, the God-appointed head of his family. In this case, when the prophet Malachi speaks of the hearts of the fathers turned back to the children and of the children to the fathers, and the angel expands that to include the turning of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, we dare not lose the meaning, or it is to our loss.

We can speak of the fathers as the fathers of our whole Jewish and Christian heritage, a line dating back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that continues through Moses and the prophets, right up to that Man that Isaiah called “the everlasting father,” our Lord Jesus Christ; the last Adam by whom comes the whole spiritual seed of the redeemed, the Church of the living God to be granted eternal life by means of, and following the pattern of, His resurrection.5

We see the fathers of the Church, and among them the holy fathers who gathered for the Ecumenical Councils. In terms of today’s Collect, which is based on the meaning of today’s Epistle, we must see the fathers who stand in Apostolic Succession, those of us, unworthy as we are apart from the grace of God, who have been ordained to be fathers among the people of God. So writes St. Paul to St. Timothy, “if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” 6

Today’s Epistle says: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” This is what the Collect draws from also, for it says: “Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight.” To some, the ministry of the priest takes place only in functionary terms. He fulfills his religious role in services, and does all those social and religious things that they require of him, such as weddings and funerals, and some community things from time to time, like praying at civic events, and so on.
But, to contradict this limitation, and the limitation that some of our own place on the significance of the priesthood, I will quote myself from an article called Priesthood and the Church:

“The priesthood is not only the ministry of the altar. To reduce anything to its main function at the expense of its entirety is a serious mistake. When the Archbishops of England wrote Saepius Officio, they made it very clear that they fully agreed with the teaching of Apostolicae Curae, from the Roman Magesterium, about the nature of the priesthood and Eucharistic sacrifice unique to that office. But, they found fault with the papal document for failing even so much as to mention the pastoral ministry of the priesthood. A priest is always alter Christus, not only when he offers the Eucharist. And, this gives a special sacramental charism to his teaching, his advice, and his fatherly love for the people of God. An individual priest may fail to exercise all the gifts of his office, but he does not lose the sacred character implanted in him. So we do not agree with those who say that the priesthood is only about the ministry at the altar and nothing else. Rather, as the ministry of the Church extends the grace of the Incarnation among mankind, the priesthood extends the graces of the Incarnation among the people of the Church, and does so at all times by the sacramental charism of the indelible character added to the man who is ordained to the priesthood.”

It is our responsibility in this Advent season to call upon the people of the Church to be holy, and to attend to their own salvation, to walk with God in all purity of conscience. What we do is not simply about feeling good. It is far more than a warm and fuzzy feeling that we seek to impart.

As part of my own stewardship in the mysteries of God, for your benefit, I want to plant a thought in your minds. For some of you, this new year that began on the First Sunday in Advent is a good time, especially during this Penitential season, to come and make your first ever private confession. The sacramental power to absolve sins is so important in Anglicanism that it is mentioned directly in our Ordinal. When a priest is ordained, the bishop speaks the words of Christ (that is, he is Christ’s own mouth, through whom the Lord speaks) words from the Gospel of St. John.7 The bishop says these words:

Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

Confession followed by Absolution hurts before you do it; but it feels very good after it has been accomplished. When I have gone to another priest for confession, I have had to remind myself that I am there to appear for the prosecution. Jesus Christ is my Advocate, and he plead my case with his own blood as he poured out his soul unto death for me on the cross.8

Quite often people come to church without realizing the wonderful gift imparted to them here. Have you ever wondered why the Church of England added to the list of names that already had been given to this principal service of the Church? In addition to the names “The Holy Eucharist,” “The Divine Liturgy,” and “The Mass,” the English Reformers came up with the name, a name taken directly from scripture, “The Holy Communion.” As St. Paul wrote: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”9 The English Reformers were not rejecting the word “Mass.” But, they wanted to correct a false understanding among the common people, namely that their religious duty was to come and “hear Mass.” So, in that first English Book of Common Prayer in 1549, they named the service: THE SUPPER OF THE LORDE AND THE HOLY COMMUNION, COMMONLY CALLED THE MASSE. The Anglican message about this service is that you come here not simply because it is your religious duty to attend; you come here to receive from God that grace by which he meets the deepest need of your soul. You have that need whether you believe it or not, whether you see it or not, whether it presents itself to your conscience or not. The Holy Communion is not where you come in order to affirm that you are a good person, but where you flee to Christ as a sinner in need of his grace. You have come here today to receive the food and drink of eternal life.

Jesus said:

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.”10

In the comedy, Life with Father, Clarence Daye, played by William Powell, had a great line: “If there’s one thing the Church should leave alone, it’s a man’s soul.” Well, as “stewards of the mysteries of God” who must give an account for your souls,11 we simply have to meddle. As much as I still encourage you to make a private confession (and to do so without fear, “early and often”), consider the grace that is offered even in the General Confession that comes up shortly. If you want to appropriate what God offers you in the General Confession followed by the General Absolution, then take time before you come here to ask the Holy Spirit to show to you your own sins, not to be morbid, but in order to make a good and sincere confession. Remember the lesson I had to learn for myself: You are, when you confess, appearing for the prosecution. Jesus, your Advocate and the Propitiation for our sins, has already appeared for you. He appeared for you on the cross. He everliveth to make intercession for you at the right hand of God. 12 Finally, to summarize the responsibility that stewards of the mysteries of God have within the Church, I quote St. Paul:

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”13

  1. Malachi 4:5,6
  2. Luke 1:16, 17
  3. vs. 13, 14
  4. I Kings 18:36, 37
  5. Isaiah 9:6, 7, I Corinthians 15:45f
  6. I Tim. 3:5
  7. John 20:22, 23
  8. Leviticus 17:11, Isaiah 53:12
  9. I Corinthians 10:16
  10. John 6:51-59
  11. Hebrews 13:17
  12. Hebrews 7:25
  13. II Corinthians 5:17-21

Friday, December 05, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent

Romans 15:4-13 * Luke 21:25-33

Taking a cue from the opening of today’s Epistle, and the last line from today’s Gospel, and of course the Collect, this Sunday has come to be called Bible Sunday.   The Collect speaks of two things, one being the obligation of each one of us concerning the Holy Scriptures to “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them;” the other being the work of the Holy Spirit as he uses those scriptures to grow patience and comfort within us, so to keeps us along the path to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. And, if we think about the Epistle and Gospel for this day, we find that hope, the same that our Prayer Book calls “the sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto eternal life.”

Recently, someone questioned me on why we refer to hope of the resurrection; after all, we hope for things that may never happen. I must disagree; we may wish for things that will never happen; but, hope cannot exist in such wishes. Or we may hope for things that might happen, but might not. However, to emphasize the meaning of hope as it relates to faith, we clarify our meaning with the words “sure and certain.” This comes from the Epistle to the Hebrews:

"Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil."

(Hebrews 6: 17-19)

It is clear that St. Paul never separated hope from faith, and never separated either of those from charity. The virtues grow together, and hope depends on faith. Hope believes, and love works; faith hopes and charity labors. What feeds us in our sure and certain hope is the word of God. Faith grows within us when hear that particular voice, the voice of God that we discern so clearly as he speaks to us now within the scriptures. They cannot become irrelevant. Written so long ago, when they are spoken or read God himself speaks in the present. Never are they worn out.

People have asked about the Holy Scriptures, when were they put together? One very unfortunate mark of our times is the quickness with which misinformation becomes “common knowledge.” Over the last few years some con artists have discovered that one way to make a lot of money in a hurry is to write a sensational, wholly misleading but shocking thesis about the Bible or Christian Faith in general, and then sell it directly to the public. The more revolutionary it is, the better. The more shocking, the more blasphemous, above all the more sensational, the easier it is to draw attention to it, and get it promoted on TV. We have seen these sensational works, all claiming to be a challenge to the Christian Faith, each make its rise and fall before burning out entirely. 

One very important point about that whole new industry is that none of these authors presents the shocking alleged discovery in the truly scientific arena of the academic world. If they did, they could not make the same amount of money overnight- or ever. If these shocking “discoveries” were put through the genuine process of scientific analysis they would die a quick death and be forgotten, and no one would get to make a killing. As a result of the sensational, irresponsible and unprofessional, thoroughly unscientific misinformation that has been thrown in the face of the public for the last few years, several people think that the bishops of the Church assembled in Nicea and began cutting books out of the Bible. Most of the people who believe this also think the Emperor Constantine was driving the agenda of the Council of Nicea in 325.

A few facts help to clean up this utter fiction. Even though he was the Emperor, and even though the Christians of that time knew that the Edict of Milan in 313 AD had ended two and a half centuries of persecution (a virtual Holocaust that had made the earliest times of the Church a bloodbath), and even though they knew that he had the authority to return to the older laws that had made Christianity an offense punishable by death and revive them, he was not given the power to run the Council of Nicea. When the Council met and the Emperor presumed to address the bishops of the Church, they told him that he was not allowed to address the assembled bishops of Christ’s Church. Basically, they told Caesar, the Emperor Constantine to whom they owed so much, to sit down and be quiet.

Now, about the Bible, the bishops at the Council of Nicea did not go about deciding which books were scripture, and which were not. All they did was to affirm in unity of mind that the books already perceived to be the Word of God were, indeed, just that. The Old Testament was not the issue at all, because it was declared to be the Word of God by no less a Person than the Living Word of God. These books had been received by the Jewish people for centuries, and were passed on to the Church with sure and certain authority. The process of recognizing these books was, by all accounts, the vox populi of the Jews. The Jewish people knew in what books to find that distinctive voice of God, and so it was that when Jesus Christ walked the earth and referred to the scriptures, in every synagogue of the Jews were those specific scrolls that formed the common library for all of them. We see in Luke that he read from the scroll of the prophets, reading from Isaiah and saying that scriptures spoke of none other but himself, Messiah and hope of the world.

In the earliest days of the Church this Old Testament formed the only Canon of scripture. But, by the early years of the second century we find that twenty-seven additional books were already received and quoted as the word of God; these twenty seven books forming an additional Canon of scripture. These books are the New Testament. In some places a few questions were raised about II Peter, Jude and Revelation. But, over time the little bit of skepticism about them disappeared. In a few places some people thought that The Shepherd of Hermas might be part of the Canon of the scriptures of the Church. But, long before the Council of Nicea in 325, the Church had defined its Canon as the books we have now, adding to the Jewish scriptures it had inherited only the twenty-seven books we call the New Testament. Again, as it had been among Israel, when the scriptures were received and recognized vox populi, so it was with the Church of Christ and the canon of the New Testament. There were no books for the bishops to delete, but rather a Canon already established before any of them had been born.

Now, why was The Shepherd of Hermas not among the books of this Canon? Again, by that same vox populi that, by the principle of whether or not the people of God recognized the voice of God, this book had not been under serious consideration. Simply put, our fathers among the Jews and the early Christians simply did not hear the clear and familiar voice of God in any other books as they heard it in the scriptures. They knew the voice of God in the Law, the Prophets, the Wisdom Literature and the Psalms. And, the Church knew that same voice of God in the four Gospels, the Epistles and the prophecy of St. John the Revelator. They did not hear it as the voice of God in other books (not that most of them were ever aware of the many Gnostic writings given so much undue attention by today’s money making sensation mongers).

St. Paul tells us about the high regard we must give to the Old Testament in today’s Epistle: “Whatsoever things were written afore time were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” 

Think of that history of Israel, from the calling of Abraham to the coming of Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again, the history of one people who were never allowed to give themselves over to sin and so be lost among the many pagan nations that served false gods. A people constantly purified by the prophet’s words, and many times by purging and suffering, given to captivity in Babylon but returned to their home after seventy years never to fall again into the worship of idols. They were a people so purified that among them was found one young virgin who echoed the faith and obedience of Abraham, and more perfectly than the ancient patriarch himself. 

Written aforetime was not only this history of the people through whom the Word, Jesus our Lord, would be incarnate, but the predictions made by the prophets of his life, his death on the cross, and his rising again. We all need to read the Book of Isaiah about the Suffering Servant by whose stripes we are healed, and who prolonged his days after dying, that he would live forever as the agent of the Lord’s will. We read of his suffering through the words of King David who foresaw the agonies of the Lord’s crucifixion, able to predict them in the first person as though suffering with him. We read also, in the words of this prophet king, of the joy of the resurrection of our Lord whose death was so brief a thing that he never saw corruption.

The Gospel today also gives us this hope, for the Lord himself assures us that his coming again will be our redemption, and that the fears and darkness of this age will disappear in the light of his glory. We are told to lift up our heads, not to look down and hang our heads. His coming, his rule over heaven and earth, the cleansing of this world from all evil, from death and suffering, and all such things that will be no more, are sure and certain. And, if instead of comfort this fills your heart with fear, then consider that fear with genuine care. It means that you must cast off the works of darkness and out on the armor of light, repent from all your sins and turn to the Lord that you may enter that blessed state of sure and certain hope, and be strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

Does the voice of God fill you with hope or with dread? I hope it does one or the other. For, anyone to be indifferent to these words is the only real danger. As our Lord said in his parable of Lazarus and the rich man, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”1 Our Lord told the Church of the Laodiceans, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”2 Indifference to the word of God is a danger beyond any other, closing the ears that they cannot hear. But, even if the word brings dread, this too leads to comfort and hope since the Holy Spirit uses what you hear to bring you to repentance, true repentance from the heart, and to faith in Jesus Christ. May God grant ears to hear, eyes to see and a heart to understand, that each one who has been lost may turn and be healed. 3

The Epistle today speaks of Christ’s ministry first to his own people of Israel, and his ministry through those people of Israel that believed in him and became his disciples as it extends to all nations.

“Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. And again, Isaiah saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; In him shall the Gentiles trust.”

This brings to mind the words of Simeon, that he spoke when he held Jesus as an infant: “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” 4 This light and this glory has been known to the world because it is the purpose of God to shine the light of Christ into every dark place. Into the darkness of pagan dread and superstition, into the darkness of ignorance and foolishness, into the darkest places of sin and death. This glorious light of Christ shines into the darkest places where we try to hide from God due to our own sins; and if we respond to his mercy that same light of revelation brings comfort and hope, the sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto eternal life. The invitation is extended by his word: come, eat and be filled with the food and drink of eternal life. Come feed on the Living Bread that has come down from heaven, and with hearty and true faith to receive Christ, through these humble means, unto everlasting life with him in glory.

“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”
1. Luke 16:31
2. Revelation 3:15, 16
3. From Isaiah 6:9

4. Luke 2:32

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Who needs Canterbury?

Was there any doubt that the Church of England would vote to have women "bishops" from now on? How is the C of E really any different from the Episcopal "Church" here in the United States, other than certain particular cultural traits of the English and the C's Establishment (i.e., as the State Church)? Nonetheless, we see the phenomenon of some people in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) openly trumpeting communion with Canterbury as some sort of advantage, as if it provides a superior status of some kind, making them the authentic Anglicans. We see the phenomenon of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) apparently delighted finally, since its birth in the 1870s, to have a connection to the See of Canterbury. 

Continuing Anglicans did initially seek to begin their venture hoping to be in communion with Canterbury. In the Affirmation of St. Louis, back in 1977, we find this:

"The Continuation of Communion with Canterbury
We affirm our continued relations of communion with the See of Canterbury and all faithful parts of the Anglican Communion. WHEREFORE, with a firm trust in Divine Providence, and before Almighty God and all the company of heaven, we solemnly affirm, covenant and declare that we, lawful and faithful members of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches, shall now and hereafter continue and be the unified continuing Anglican Church in North America, in true and valid succession thereto."

Then Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, strongly opposed the new Continuing Church, and gave it no recognition. As a result, the Continuers went ahead without any official status as part of the Anglican Communion. Frankly, forced to choose between orthodoxy and Anglican Communion membership, it was clear that genuine fidelity to Christ required the willingness to forego that membership. After a while, it became obvious that this estrangement was beneficial to the Continuing churches. The Anglican Catholic Church even went so far as to add this note to the original Affirmation of St. Louis:  

"[Note: Because of the action of General Synod of the Church of England, Parliament, and the Royal Assent, the College of Bishops of the Anglican Catholic Church is obliged no longer to count the See of Canterbury as a faithful part of the Anglican Communion.]"

The operative word is "faithful," both in the original and in the note. To preserve Church order and the validity of Holy Orders, the separation proved necessary. Perhaps there exists a failure of communication between us and the ACNA. You see, we are glad not to be in communion with Canterbury. If we were offered communion with Canterbury we would decline it, as in "Thanks, but no thanks."

The ACNA, on the other hand (which still has Priestesses in the Church, though we hope, and pray, not for long), has held communion with Canterbury as worth having. And this comes at a time when the Anglican Communion is falling apart, due largely to the refusal of African churches to participate in future Lambeth Conferences. For most of those African Anglicans, the final straw has been the liberal acceptance of homosexual acts, something very clearly revealed to be sin in the Scriptures. 

Perhaps, under political pressure, someday in the future, the Church of England will go the way of the Church of Sweden, where the clergy are required by law to perform same-sex "weddings." I have no doubt that right here, in my adopted state of North Carolina, the local Episcopalians will be performing same-sex "weddings" and feeling all warm and fuzzy about how liberal and advanced they have become. The See of Canterbury has watched for years the Episcopalians, trailing only slightly behind them into heresy and apostasy. 

Back in the beginning, the Continuers saw that ordination of women was simply the latest symptom, and one that required separation to protect sacramental validity. The arguments that were used for women's ordination were not merely similar to the arguments for acceptance of homosexual acts, leading to same-sex "blessings" and now "weddings," but largely the very same arguments. Just substitute a word here and there, and it all boils down to the same reasoning. Where did it begin? By believing that a person's sex (not "gender"- the word is "sex"- as in male and female) was totally irrelevant to anything sacramental. So, it went from ordination to marriage. The confusion of seeing a woman "priest" at the altar, portraying the heavenly Bridegroom, and seeing two people of the same sex get "married" to each other, may be different in degree, but it is the same in kind. The C of E, with its priestesses and bishopettes, is just a little behind the Episcopalians here in America. It is only a matter of time, as always.

What is the Anglican Communion anyway? Was the Episcopal Church part of something called the Anglican Communion in the late eighteenth century? How about during the War of 1812? Historically, the Anglican Communion is a very recent thing.

I would urge my friends in the ACNA, including those in the REC, to cut themselves free from the weight of it. Of my charity, I wish they would take several pages from our book. One of those pages says we don't need communion with the See of Canterbury. No orthodox church body does. In fact, no orthodox church body can afford the price that comes with it.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

From the upcoming Newsletter of St. Benedict's

I decided to share these thoughts with readers of The Continuum.

Advent Christmas Epiphany 2014-15
From the Rector’s Desk
Every year, at this time, I am acutely aware of the difference between how the commercial world views this season, and how we should view it. To the department stores and shopping malls “Christmas” runs from – what? Maybe the fourth of July? - until December 25, when they are grudgingly forced to close for a whole day. They think it is all over at 12:01 AM December 26. Suddenly, when the twelve-day season of Christmas is just beginning, they have ended their season. Some stores advertise what they now call “the twelve days of Christmas,” by which they mean the last twelve days of Advent, the “shopping days” leading up to the unfortunate day in which they cannot make anymore money.
But to us, the twelve days of Christmas begin with the Feast of the Nativity on December 25, and end just in time for the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Beginning, this year, on November 30, we enter the season of Advent, beginning a new church year.
Now, I say all this because the world has converted our holy days and liturgical seasons into something unrecognizable, and the secular “Christmas” has a way of applying pressure of its own that can, if we let it, drown out the true meaning for us. To some degree that is unavoidable; so just remember not to let it spoil your joy in Christ. To those who will be celebrating His Nativity on the day we call Christmas (Christ Mass), a blessed, holy and merry Christmas. To those who do not, well…May they have a nice December 25.

Daily Office

As we enter Advent, the beginning of the church year, a penitential season, you might want to begin using, if you have not already begun, the practice of Daily Morning and Evening Prayer. The season opens with Messianic words of the Prophet Isaiah, included in the scheduled readings from the Bible. This marvelous Rule (Regula) of Life is one of the great gifts of our Anglican heritage in the Book of Common Prayer. I will be glad to help any of you who want to practice it, and who may have questions about how to use the Book of Common Prayer. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

I want to add only one thing to my sermon at this link. In our modern culture we are made to feel inordinately bound to our emotions and feelings. People often say, "I only hope I can find it in my heart to forgive..." (by "heart" in modern culture, meaning emotion, unlike the way Jesus used the word) or, worse, "I can never forgive..." But, in point of fact, forgiveness is a decision, and it is not dependent on emotion. However, if you need help battling bitter feelings, than act on some very practical wisdom (as commanded). "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:44,45)." What applies to present mistreatment applies to past wrongs. It is very difficult to resent someone for whom you are praying.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles Article 31 - Of the oneOblation of Christ finished upon the Cross.

The offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore, the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.

De unica Christi oblatione in Cruce perfecta

Oblatio Christi, semel facta, perfecta est redemptio, propitiatio, et satisfactio pro omnibus peccatis totius mundi, tam originalibus quam actualibus; neque praeter illam unicam est ulla alia prop peccatis expiatio. Unde missarum sacrificia, quibus vulgo dicebatur sacerdotem offerre Christum in remissionem poenae aut culpae pro vivis defunctis, blasphema figmenta sunt et pernitiosae imposturae.

Archbishop Peter Robinson
Article 31 takes aim at two favourite targets of the Reformers; popular misconceptions concerning the Church's teaching on the Mass, and the notion that anything can be added to what the Book of Common Prayer refers to as his 'one oblation once offered.' However, it should be noted that the Article is quite narrow in its focus and does not condemn the notion that the Lord's Supper is a feast upon the one true sacrifice, but that of the "sacrifices of masses."

In crude terms, popular piety had, from the early Middles Ages onwards, had a nasty tendency to treat the Eucharist not so much as an amnesis of Christ's saving work, but as a particularly powerful form of magic. Local councils had to ban practices such as offering Mass to procure the death of an enemy in order to preserve some sort of Christian decency to the use of the Sacrament, but this same impulse finds a new outlet in later centuries in the cult of the dead.

From the 1200s onward, it had been an increasingly common practice for men and women to leave money to pay for Masses to be offered to ease the passage of their souls through Purgatory. Many of these Chantry bequests were for a given number of years, others were suppose to be perpetual, which in the case of England ended in 1545 when Henry VIII - who you will remember was no Protestant - ended the practice. Well, ended it apart from the royal chantries at St George's Chapel, Windsor! Lurking at the back of these chantry bequests was a notion akin to the idea that each Mass had a definite value in terms of both remitting actual sin, and also taking time off Purgatory. For this reason, the Article focuses on this rather crude and simplistic understanding of Eucharistic sacrifice, rightly describing the notion that the Eucharistic sacrifice is a piece of "magic" or spiritual currency with which God can be appeased or bargained with as a blasphemous fable.

However, I would be doing you a disservice if I did not point out that the Article only condemns the idea that each Mass is individually a sacrifice with a definite propitiatory value. This leaves other understandings of 'Eucharistic Sacrifice' open to us.

Firstly, there is the idea of the Mass as being a commemoration of Christ's one true sacrifice upon the Cross. However, the NT Greek conception of commemoration is not so much one of remembering a past event which remains firmly in the past, but one of bringing the past into the present. This implies, very firmly, that when the Eucharist is offered, there is a sense in which we step out of time into the eternal where the one sacrifice of Christ is an ever present reality.

Secondly, we have to consider that offering of 'ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto thee." This offering of ourselves to God through the Eucharist should serve as a reminder to us that Christ's wonderful mercy towards us in His sacrifice requires a meaningful response from us - dedicating ourselves in a sacrificial way to God's praise and service.                     
  Thirdly, there is the sacrifice of thanksgiving, from which the secondary name for the Communion Service - 'Eucharist' - derives. This idea of giving thanks by celebrating the Eucharist is one of the oldest ideas in Eucharistic theology, and can be seen in the 'gave thanks' clause in the words of Institution. Although this directly refers to the Jewish blessing of bread and wine, which Our Lord took and reinterpreted when He instituted the sacrament, it also indicated the importance of thanksgiving element to the Eucharist. The phrase 'sacrificium laudes' occurs many times in the Early Fathers when they discuss the Mass.

We can see from the above considerations that the Reformers were far from ruling out the notion of sacrifice altogether, but they were very careful in how they define the concept as it relates to the Eucharist. It is quite clear that there is no Christian sacrifice than that of Christ upon the Cross, and that the Mass is not a sacramental re-enactment of Calvary, but they do accept that it both a living memorial of the one true sacrifice, a sacrifice of our service to God through Christ Jesus, and also a sacrifice of our thanksgiving for Christ's saving work.

Fr. Robert Hart
The double plural in "sacrifices of Masses" has been explained above by Archbishop Robinson. Frankly, what the Article condemns is not Catholic teaching, and yes, not the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in this day and age. What it was was a corrupt practice that grew in use during the Medieval era. In truth, we can say that there is only one Eucharistic sacrifice, no matter how many times it is celebrated.

Let us now turn to the theology of Christ's one sufficient sacrifice. The scriptures attest to it clearly.

"Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation...But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Hebrews 9:24-28, 10:12-14)."

It is, therefore, error to speak of "the sacrifices of Masses," in the double plural, "in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt." Offering Christ again is neither possible nor necessary. The opening of our own Anglican Canon of Consecration ties Christ's one sacrifice into the Eucharistic sacrifice, or as our Book of Common Prayer puts it, as a synonymous thought, our "sacrifice  of praise and thanksgiving."

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

This also draws from the First Epistle of St. John: 

"My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:1,2)."

We learn clearly from the Scriptures, therefore, that Christ offered Himself once, and that His sacrifice is for the whole world. In a mystical way, our celebration of Holy Communion together as the Church (at least two or three gathered together) brings that one sacrifice into the present by our offering of worship.

"When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost (John 19:30)."

It takes three English words to translate one Greek word. Teleo (τελέω) is thus rendered, "It is finished." Here a very significant historical fact must be noted. Greek (not Latin) was the Lingua Franca, or universal language in the Roman Empire of Christ's time. The word Teleo was written on receipts to show that a debt had been fully paid, and nothing more was owed. Christ's utterance could be interpreted into English, "It is paid in full" without any lack of fidelity to the original text; for so it was commonly understood when St. John wrote this word, possibly interpreting an Aramaic word, or possibly quoting Jesus own use of the Greek word itself. 

The theological meaning is clear. Nothing can be added to Christ's one sacrifice, nor need anything be added. It is paid in full, and so "He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." The whole debt of humans sin was paid by His one sacrifice of Himself, for all peoples for all time.

Here we must not close without speaking of the Person of Christ. To suggest that anything is needed in addition to His one sacrifice of Himself, or that anything additional can be added, be it "sacrifices of Masses," "merits" of saints, indulgences, use of relics, etc., is to deny His Divine nature. The simple words of Charles Wesley come to mind: "Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou my God shouldst die for me?" If, with St. Thomas, we know the risen Christ to be "My Lord and my God (John 20:28)," acknowledging that He is One with the Father and the Holy Spirit in all eternity, "Light of Light, very God of very God," how can we fail to believe in the complete sufficiency of His human death as the one perfect Atonement? So, this is a matter of orthodox Christology.

Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

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

MY brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

The second lesson from Morning Prayer today says something very similar.

“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds (II Corinthians 10:4).”

Have you seen in the news this week the report from Ft. Lauderdale Florida? A ninety year-old man, a World War II veteran, and two ministers have been arrested, twice, facing five-hundred dollar fines and sixty days in jail for each “offense.” Do you know what their crime was? They were feeding homeless people as a Christian ministry. I haven’t yet learned what denomination they belong to, or if they are even entirely orthodox by our standards. But, I know that they are obeying commandments in the Bible that go back as far as the Law of Moses, and are repeated in various ways in the New Testament. The name of their organization is “Love thy Neighbor.” (Heavens! What a subversive name indeed!)

Here are people trying to obey God by feeding the poor. In recent weeks I have told you about instances in which Christians find themselves as outlaws, facing criminal penalties, simply by being obedient to God’s commandments. In the case of feeding the homeless, this new trend in legislation, which I guess we may call “America‘s War on Charity,” has been enacted in about a hundred and thirty cities and towns across the United States. Sadly, one of those cities is nearby, our state capitol, Raleigh. Yes, in addition to the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror, we see the War on Charity, as well as the War on Unwanted Unborn Babies, and all other sorts of dangerous enemies of the state.

Now I mention this story as an example of something we must face sooner or later. As long as we live in this world, we are in a spiritual battle. Imagining that we have the world’s support, in our endeavor to follow Christ, is a way of begging to be disappointed – at best.

I am reminded of William Wilberforce, the 18th century Englishman, in fact a Member of Parliament, who worked relentlessly for years to abolish the slave trade. As one writer tells us:

Because his colleagues in Parliament would refuse to listen to his words, Wilberforce would sometimes pull heavy chains from under his chair and drape them over himself to dramatise the inhumanity of slavery. Nonetheless Christians and non-Christians ignored him and ridiculed him for years. Sniffed one slave owner, ‘Humanity is a private feeling, not a public principle to act upon.’ Another, Lord Melbourne, angrily agreed: ‘Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life.’” 1

Coming so soon on the heels of All Saints Day (which, in the readings, as well as our liturgy and hymnody, is really about the Church Triumphant), I think we could call the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity, “Church Militant Sunday.” And, I mean not just militant in the sense of being alive, but truly militant in the sense of taking up arms, albeit, spiritual arms in the spiritual war.

My fear is not for people who are willingly on the frontlines in spiritual warfare, but for those who try to avoid it. Only they are in real danger. Seeking peace, while living in this world is understandable, but impossible to achieve without compromising with evil. Sooner or later, the world gives us no choice. The illusion that the western civilization is friendly to Christianity, rather than hostile to the Gospel of Christ, becomes less and less tenable each passing day.

I grant, it is more frightening to live in other parts of the world, places that some of you have come from, where Christians are very openly persecuted to the death. In Touchstone Magazine, we have a feature about “The Suffering Church,” a simple collection of news reports about persecution, in every issue. And we must never forget our persecuted brothers and sisters in our prayers.

But, I don’t want you to imagine that the world is supportive of and friendly to your Christian life anywhere. It cannot be so in this life. Don’t go looking for trouble. Just don’t expect that your life as a Christian, if you really want to follow Christ, will be easy. We don’t live in that kind of world. You need, as St. Paul says, to “put on the whole armor of God.” There is no other way to live a godly life that is pleasing to God.

When the Apostle tells us to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might,” and that “weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds,” he means that the only power and might for the spiritual battle is the power of the Holy Spirit.

“This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts (Zechariah 4:6).”

Another way to translate this from Hebrew is, “Not by might, nor by armies…” All of the armies in the world cannot win the spiritual war. The weapons they carry are carnal. They have weapons merely against flesh and blood. Our enemies are invisible to the human eye, and attack the mind, the soul and the will. They would drain you of faith in God and lure you into sin. They would have the whole Church lose her faith, throw away her creeds, ignore her Scripture, and corrupt her sacraments. They would have the Church overly busy with worldly preoccupations so as not to have time to pray. They would have her members squabbling with each other. They would have her children ignorant of the truth of God’s word.

And, up to now, I have spoken only of defensive warfare. The Church has one offensive weapon in the armor of God, and that is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).” Jesus did not tell us to avoid spiritual battle, but to advance into the world with the Gospel. Listen to our marching orders, His last orders issued before he ascended to the Father’s right hand.

“When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight (Acts 1:7-9).”

There it is again, the power (dunamis) of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not send the Church out into the world to fight this battle by mere human effort. It is not our own organizational skills, our own brilliance, or our own strength that overcomes the spiritual forces of evil. We absolutely need the power of the Holy Spirit to fight the spiritual battle. Jesus also said, “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49).” In other words, He ordered them not to go forth in their own strength, but only in the power of the Holy Spirit. To try to carry on the work that Christ gave to His Church, in merely human strength (which is the weakness of the flesh), is disobedience to the Lord.

I recall one night in 1985, during a service of prayer in a church outside of Baltimore City. A woman in her thirties would attend church services with her parents. She was always kind of gloomy looking, visibly unhappy. What I did not know, until after the events of this story, is that she had been married to a man who used physical bullying to force her into occult activities (a very dangerous thing indeed). During the prayers, she decided, for the first time in years, to really join in by faith and make the prayers her own.

While praying together, we saw this woman suddenly rise in the air a little bit, and proceed to move as if she had St. Victus Dance, contorting her body in a way no dancer or athlete could ever possibly imitate, and manifesting emotional torment. She fell to the floor announcing in Hebrew, “Meshiach! Meshiach!” – a word, it turns out, that she didn’t know. It meant that something in her was alarmed to be aware of Christ’s own presence among us, as we were gathered together in His name.

Everyone in the room, except Diane (who was pregnant with our son David) and me, ran to a corner of the room and huddled together, disappointing me with their apparent fear. I walked over, Diane behind me, and used the one exorcism rite that always has to work, what I call “The Ritual Saint Paul” – from Acts 16:18 – “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” I said it a second time, and added the word, “now.” The woman opened her eyes, sat up and began to cry. She had no memory of how she ended up lying on the floor several feet away from where she stood. She thought she had seen a vision of Jesus Christ as soon as she decided to pray, after so long a time. I suppose the demon in her saw the vision too, and reacted with the kind of fear we read about in the Gospels.

Anyway, after that night she no longer looked gloomy, but instead very cheerful and full of life. Her long dark night of suffering had ended. If I had tried to use mere human strength I might have gotten into a long exhausting sort of exorcism “wrestling match.” But instead, I was aware that the only power that overcomes this sort of thing is the power of the Holy Spirit, and so I said the right words and allowed Him to be the active One.

Mere human strength cannot do God’s work by itself; it might even get in the way. Rather, “Be strong in the Lord, and the power of his might.”

1. From Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day.