Monday, April 28, 2014


Here is a perfect example of why slippery slopes are slippery; and that is the best thing we can say for them. As reported in LifeSite News:

Archbishop of Wales: We ‘have evolved’ from the Bible’s teaching on divorce, why not gay ‘marriage’?

'“The State allowed the possibility of divorce and remarriage for a long time before we did as a Church. Not only do we now bless such unions, we actually remarry divorced people in our churches,” he said. “Some people have changed their minds for example on women’s ministry and same-sex relationships when they have experienced the ministry of a woman priest in the one case, or discovered their own son or daughter to be gay in the other,” he said.“Will we, as a Church, eventually adopt the same approach as far as same-sex relationships are concerned, as we have done about remarriage after divorce, or is gay marriage in a different category from the remarriage of divorced people?” He added that whatever the answer, he hopes the Church’s “discussions can be charitable.”'

Let's see if I understand him correctly: Because certain Canterbury Club Anglicans have been unfaithful and disobedient to God in the past, and have a precedent for related apostasy, they should get even worse and more rebellious against God. Hey! He forgot to mention abortion as an example of this "evolution." 

He went on to say, about assisted suicides:

'There is not just one Christian viewpoint on “same-sex relationships” or “assisted dying,” he said. Instead our attitudes are shaped by upbringing, education and which texts of the Bible one prefers.'

See why the Continuing Church is always more necessary than we were the day before?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

In case you need reminding

Just how far from the true Faith has the Episcopal Church gone, so far, in its mad rush off the cliff? This article from Beliefnet spells out the current facts. Why do I remind my people, when they are travelling out of town and want to attend church, that we are not in communion with the Episcopal Church? Just catch up with the facts in this article.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

First Sunday after Easter

I John 5:4-12 * John 20:19-23
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

At the beginning of Saint John’s First Epistle we see a connection between the fellowship that the Apostles had with Jesus Christ during the years in which they followed Him from town to town, the relationship they maintained with Him after His resurrection, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that began to be manifested on the day of Pentecost. Among those charismatic realities we are given the sacraments that belong to the priesthood, chief of which is the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. This continued fellowship with the Risen Christ is, in a sense, Part II of the Incarnation. It is the Incarnation as it continues to affect the fallen world through His Body the Church, from which the Lord is never absent. He is its chief member, the Head of the Body.

So now, hear these words from that Epistle:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

We should think together about how this brings us to the words in the fifth chapter that we have read this day, especially, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” We should reflect on the charismatic reality and power of the Church, and of how we remain in this blessed fellowship. We should reflect on how the hands of the apostles handled the Risen Lord, and how their eyes saw Him, and how we continue in that fellowship. We should reflect upon the reality of His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament when our eyes see and our hands handle the Word of Life even here and now. All of this is part of having fellowship with the Apostles, and in that fellowship, fellowship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, that our joy may be full.

We speak of the Sacramental Life, and we need to know that this is, indeed, Part II of the Incarnation. The Sacramental Life is everything that we have read about. We know that our Lord came to his earth by taking the limitation of human nature into the infinity of His Divine Person as God the Son, time into eternity, creation into uncreated Life, man into God. The means of our salvation are physical, located in time and space, visible in history. His conception and birth, the Nativity in Bethlehem wherein the words of Christopher Smart ring true: “God all bounteous, all creative, Whom no ills from good dissuade, Is incarnate and a native of the very world He made.” In going “about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the Devil” the Son of Man made use of matter, the touch of His hands and the vibrations of his voice, serving to heal through these means. By taking all of our sins and dying on the cross as the “sacrifice for sin,” and then after death “prolonging His days” by rising again, He used the physical means of our world, our home, to bring us salvation. He bore in His own body our sins on the tree, and by rising to life again destroyed death, and the one who has the power of death.

Therefore, to conclude that salvation is sacramental in nature, that it depends on the Incarnation, and is both the Church’s message and ministry, is to understand the apostolic fellowship about which Saint John taught us. It all comes from the richest truth gleaned from that simple phrase “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Without a flesh and blood Jesus who is fully God and Fully man, and without His resurrection by which he ever lives to make intercession for us, and without His continued ministry through His Body the Church by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we could not enter, let alone remain in the fellowship of which Saint John speaks. But, we have our Lord Jesus who is fully God and fully man, risen from the dead, our Great High Priest, our only Mediator, our Advocate and Propitiation, who calls you and me to live in fellowship with him and his Father, that fellowship he established in the Church of the Apostles so long ago, and which has never passed away from heaven and earth. We need to be in that fellowship. We are invited in, welcomed in, and even urged in. The benefits are eternal.

We see from the Gospel this day that our Lord ordained the Apostles, and that this included the priestly gift of the power to absolve sins. Make no mistake. This is the power about which the people had rejoiced when “they glorified God, because this power had been given unto men (Matthew 9:8).” To the Jews of that time, when the temple yet stood, this was indeed a priestly power. In the Law of Moses, the laws of Kippur, Atonement, required a priest to offer sacrifice for the penitent Israelite who, coming to the priest, made his confession of sin. In order to reconcile the penitent to God, the priest was required to make atonement. But, he could not kill himself, and so had to slay an animal in sacrifice (in his own place as the atonement), so that remission of sins could come through the shedding of blood. Of course, to the Israelites, it was only natural to understand confession of sin in relation to the priests and sacrifice.

For us, the sacrifices are a type and shadow of the real sacrifice, that of Christ on His cross. So, on our altars we do not shed blood, but rather we obey the words, “do this as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of Me.” “Types and shadows have their ending, for the newer Rite is here.” So too, when we hear confession, we speak words that are the sacramental matter and form to effect genuine absolution. When the Lord granted to men this power in His own words of Ordination, He handed on the priestly ministry of forgiving sins that is granted by His own priestly act as the true Atonement, the real Kippur, by the shedding of His own blood. The Risen Christ has, by this sacrifice, given to the Church, by means of apostolic and priestly ministry, this great gift as part of that fellowship, “this life [that] is in His Son.”

Some of you may feel the need to make a private confession other than the General Confession, and that may very well be the voice of the Holy Spirit directing you. If so, do you fear the pain of making confession? Consider His pain by which this gift is given. Do you fear the embarrassment of confessing your sins to a man? Consider His humiliation by which this gift is given. Do you want fellowship with the Church of the Apostles? Do you want, through that fellowship, the fellowship with God and His Son Jesus Christ? Consider the One who allowed himself to be completely forsaken by all, so that he could restore you to this fellowship. Do you want your joy to be full? Then do not be afraid to come and confess your sins. The Risen Christ, using even now the means of this physical world, the presence of men who hear, the vibrations, that is the sound of your words of confession and their words of absolution, gives this wonderful certainty that your burden is laid down, and your soul healed.

This healing comes from the Incarnation; it all comes from the manifestation of the Word of Life in the Flesh; it is continued as Christ remains incarnate here in His body the Church. The Risen Christ is known to us in the waters of Baptism, in the Apostolic gift of Confirmation. He is known to us in the priestly ministry of the forgiveness of sins. He is known to us in the Breaking of Bread.

Even now, in His Body the Church, by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, those charismatic realities that make the sacraments genuine and powerful, He yet goes about doing good, healing all who are oppressed by the Devil. Even now, this very day, within His Body the Church, He gives the fullness of this rich salvation. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Fugue

and Recapitulation on Salzburg. Click here.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter 2014

Click on the picture for an Easter Sermon

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fr. Wells' Bulletin Inserts


The special liturgy for this day is one of the great treasures of Christian spirituality.  As a sign of unusual mourning and penitence, both today and tomorrow the Church refrains from celebrating the Holy Eucharist and still in most places does not administer Holy Communion to the faithful.  In effect, we place ourselves under a sentence of excommunication as we remember the crime of our Saviour's death.  Today's liturgy is merely a "liturgy of the Word," which Anglicans of another generation called the Ante-communion.

Two further features of the Good Friday liturgy are the Solemn Collccts and the Reproaches which are chanted or read during the Veneration of the Cross.  Both of these have archaic qualities which recall the earliest centuries of Christian history.  In the "Solemn Collects" we remember that in His very death our Lord was officiating as our Great High Priest .  His first "word from the cross" was a prayer of intercession, "Father forgive them."  So His Church, keeping vigil with Him on Calvary, intercedes for all her children and likewise for the whole world.

The nine prayers of intercession are comprehensive, beginning with the bishops and hierarchy of the Church, proceeding with "all estates of men in thy holy Church," continuing on with various special needs, and concluding with prayers for the Jews and for the heathen.  Each intercession has a special bidding, "Let us pray for..."  One phrase runs through and unites them:  "the Lord our God."
Here we have an echo of the covenant formula which unlocks the entire Bible, "I will be your God, and ye shall be my people, and I will dwell with you."

The covenant of grace, first intimated in the Garden of Eden in God's curse of the serpent and later inaugurated with Abraham, comes into sharp focus today.  When was that promise ever so rejected, or ever so confirmed, as it was at the death of the Messiah?  When the Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus Christ, human wickedness (the depravity of all mankind) reached its lowest and vilest point in His murder.  But never has the covenant promise been so ratified as it was when He prayed "My God, my God."  We might lose our way in the rest of that word of dereliction, "why hast thou forsaken me," if we forget that He was pleading the covenant promise, "I will be your God."  Never was God so perfectly "our God" as when He put forth His only-begotten Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  The covenant language in the Solemn Collects should remind us that like our dying Saviour we are pleading the promises of the Covenant sealed in His Blood.

In the Reproaches, we have a meditation on a passage from the prophet Micah.
Here are the original words (Micah 6:3--5).
O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I wearied you?
Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
And redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam.
O my people, remember what Balak, king of Moab devised,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.

This address of the LORD to Israel was part of a covenant lawsuit, in which He had called on his unfaithful and idolatrous people to to give an account of their breach-of-contract with the God who had redeemed them.  Their situation is untenable, they have no defense in the LORD's courtroom, they have invoked His curses, their doom is certain.

Micah's description of the covenant lawsuit of God against His people is recalled on Good Friday because on Calvary this untenable situation was resolved, when Jesus Christ took upon Himself our guilt and our doom, by enduring the curse which we have justly provoked.  It is of some interest that Micah describes this lawsuit as taking place "before the mountains."  He may have foreseen Jesus' walk up Calvary's hill to answer for us.  Surely it was there that the greatest "saving act" of the Lord took place.

It is truly sad that this magnificent liturgical poetry (brilliantly set to music) is so little known.  This is owing to the frivolous notion that the Old Testament allusions are somehow anti-Semitic and offensive to the Jewish people.  We must be quick to say that the address "O my people" is not directed toward the idolatrous Israelites of Micah's day, nor to the Sanhedrin which sent Jesus to Pilate, and certainly not to the Jewish people of later centuries.  The Reproaches are addressed, specifically and painfully, to ourselves, the Christian community of here and now.  Because of the "new covenant" which our Saviour announced in the Upper Room (really the ancient covenant of grace re-established and made new), we are God's covenant people.  And we too are faithless, idolatrous, guilty covenant-breakers.  I am not convinced that it was sensitivity for Jewish feelings that has placed the Reproaches in our liturgical attic.  Each time I read them I feel bound to respond, "Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy" not upon them, but "upon us."

Mercifully, the Reproaches do not end with the covenant lawsuit in which we are convicted.  The conclusion is, "We venerate the Cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify thy holy Resurrection, for by virtue of the Cross joy hath come to the whole world."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Palm Sunday

Phil. 2:5-11 * Matt. 27:1-54

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus

In a rather unhappy conversation with a man who aspired to be a priest, I asked the question, “What is it that you want?” He answered me, “I want to be a priest; in fact, I want to be a bishop.” He even said, “Isn’t it right to want to get to the top of your field?” I told him that he should forget the whole idea of Holy Orders for himself. I said I would not help him with it at all. I went on to explain to him that this is not about ambition. Every priest, including the Archbishop, is forever a deacon, that is, a servant. He said that he had never heard that before. Had he not read what Saint Paul tells us? “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” In fact, that is for everyone.
The passage we heard in the Epistle appointed for Palm Sunday, the great Christological passage in Philippians, has been the subject of very important, indeed necessary, theological writing and teaching since the earliest times. In no uncertain terms it teaches us that Jesus Christ is equal to God, that is, by His very nature He is God; as the Creed says, “Light of Light, very God of very God, of one substance (homousion)  with the Father.” And, just as St. John tells us that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” St. Paul tells us that this Person, equal to God, was “found in fashion (σχῆμα) as a man.” This passage tells us what John told us: “And the Word was God…and the Word was made flesh.”
          And, it goes on to tell how He emptied Himself, which means that He humbled Himself. He remained equal to God, and is equal to the Father as God, but nonetheless took upon Him the form of a servant. And, as a servant He “went about doing good, healing all who were oppressed of the devil. (Acts 10: 38)” Above all, in that role of a servant He was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
          “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Important as the theological meaning to this whole passage is, the Apostle wrote it for a pastoral reason that included that same call Jesus had made to everyone who would be one of His disciples:

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt. 16:24-26)” 

As we begin Holy Week, we need to hear this call. When I consider the damage that has been done to the Continuing Church, I know that much of that damage was from men who wanted to slice off a portion of the Church in order to rule over something. They were not servants in their hearts.
When the Lord told His disciples that He was going to the cross before entering into glory by His resurrection, it was the same St. Peter, who had only just said his great confession, who took the Lord aside and tried to talk Him out of it. One minute earlier, Peter was told that he was blessed, because flesh and blood had not revealed to him that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The Father had revealed this to him. Jesus then gave a new meaning to Simon’s nickname, Peter, the Rock upon which Christ would build His Church (a special calling that Peter would later fulfill in the early chapters of the Book of Acts). But, now Jesus corrects Peter for speaking the devil’s words.

“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (vss.21-24)”

Well, that only goes to show that Peter was not yet ready, and he would not be ready until he had seen the risen Lord, and until he was filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. He had not yet learned to have the mind of Jesus in him. He had not yet learned the meaning of the cross.
          And, we see that ignorance of that way, the way of Christ’s cross, made even this blessed man a mouthpiece of Satan; this same man who had been given the most important of revelations directly by God the Father. He had been given the revelation of Christ’s glory, but he needed to learn the way of Christ’s cross. Jesus resists Peter’s words, of dissuasion from the cross, in a way that is reminiscent of the temptations after His forty day fast in the wilderness.
          Whatever your personal opinion may be of Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, it does show the real horror to which the Lord submitted Himself. It is consistent with Scripture and informed by archeology and history. Roman “justice” was that cruel. The soldiers did get their fun by crowning the Lord with thorns, beating Him and mocking Him after a near fatal scourging that would have killed a weaker man. The theory of Biblical interpretation upon which the movie was based seems to have gone over the heads of many critics, especially over the heads of those who thought it portrayed the Lord as weak or helpless.
          From the first scene in Gethsemane, the devil is trying to talk the Lord into refusing the death of the cross, and the burden of carrying the full weight of human sin. It shows a contest, a wrestling match, between the Lord and Satan. When the Lord, in the garden, says to the Father, “not my will, but thine be done,” the moon goes behind a cloud. If the Lord is willing to submit Himself to the power of evil men, then the devil is going to make sure it is as painful as possible, to tempt Him. Recall the words that were flung at Him when He was on the cross:

“Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. (Matt. 27:40-42)”

In fact, the movie was all about Christus Rex, or Christus Victor, that is, that on the cross Jesus was still in complete control as King of kings, and by His death Jesus won the victory.
            Listen to the words Jesus spoke:
“Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? (Matt. 26:51-54)

And this:
“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (John 10:17,18)”

Why did Jesus make His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane? What is the real reason for His words? “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt… O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. (Matt. 26:39,42)” We know from other occasions that Christ spoke prayers so that others could learn from them, saying when He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, “And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. (John 11:42)
This is all about why the Lord would so willingly fulfill the Scriptures about the Suffering Servant of YHVH (Isaiah 52:13-53:12): Because without Christ’s cross the will of God is not possible. That gracious will by which we, lost in sin and death, could be saved. “If it be possible,” said Jesus in the Garden. If what be possible? If it were possible that we could be forgiven, that the sins of the world could be taken away—for they could not be taken away unless Jesus gave Himself as the Lamb of God. His prayer in the Garden was not a moment of fear (he expressed no fear, but only sorrow). He did not pray to be spared: In fact, the effect of His words was very much the opposite: “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt… thy will be done.
          He willingly drank the cup of sorrow. And, about that prayer in Gethsemane, He said it for our sakes. We need to know that only by His cross, only by His obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, was the curse and burden of sin carried away; and that it could not be carried away by any other means. Could God forgive and justify sinners without the cross? No; for He would then be neither just nor holy (Rom. 3:26). Could God then destroy the human race? No, “for God so loved the world…” For our sakes, Jesus submitted to the will of the Father who loved us, Who gave His own Son for us (“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Rom. 8:32”).
Jesus was Christus Rex on the tree. And he was Christus Victor by His death. In all of this, He also shows us the way to live. If the One Who is equal to God could “humble Himself to behold the things which are in heaven in earth (Psalm 113: 6),” so much so that He “took upon Him the form of a servant,” just who is any one of us? Are you too good to be a servant? Am I? Is anyone here willing to claim a station, in this world, greater than that of God the Son? He became a servant, the Suffering Servant.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Faking a Bundle

Originally published in Touchstone, A Journal of Mere Christianity
Robert Hart on Lucrative Careers & Pseudo-Biblical Scholarship
It was the late 1970s. Collars, lapels, and ties were wide; Jimmy Carter was President; double-knit was still ugly because it was still visible; and I was a young college student unable as yet to grow a decent beard. With a certain amount of naiveté, I sat in my first ever philosophy class.
The instructor (not a professor) lectured on the basics of philosophy before making the most flawed statement I have ever heard: “Then there is the whole idea of matter as something that is evil, which is what we see in Christian teaching.” Never before had I encountered professional and highly refined nonsense (which, I later came to see, is a hallmark of academia when it sinks into higher illiteracy). The punch line, by the way, is that this same instructor taught comparative religion.
This was my first real encounter with the problem of the uninformed informer, whether a journalist or an educator. In the academic world, the uninformed informer presents a special kind of problem, one that is compounded when commercial interests are added. This is especially true when an entire career has been built on a shocking, challenging, and revisionist thesis, authenticated by book sales or television specials rather than by scholarly rigor.
Pesher Ploy
Take, for example, the Australian writer Barbara Thiering, author of Jesus the Man,who earned a Ph.D. from Sydney University and lectured there on Semitic studies until her retirement. Her academic career was based on her reputed expertise on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Yet even Geza Vermes, no champion of traditional Christianity, wrote about her work:
Professor Barbara Thiering’s reinterpretation of the New Testament, in which the married, divorced, and remarried Jesus, father of four, becomes the “Wicked Priest” of the Dead Sea Scrolls, has made no impact on learned opinion. Scroll scholars and New Testament experts alike have found the basis of the new theory, Thiering’s use of the so-called “pesher technique”, without substance.
What is the “pesher technique?” Basically, it’s the theory that the New Testament can only be understood correctly when it is first translated from Greek into Hebrew, and then subjected to the code of interpretation used by the Essenes of Qumran. It is this method that supposedly unlocks the real meaning of the New Testament.
What might be the weaknesses of this thesis? For one thing, we would have to accept Thiering’s unique dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is about fifty years earlier than what is generally accepted. We would also have to assume that Thiering’s own translation of the Greek into Hebrew was exactly, word for word, what the apostles and other New Testament writers had intended.
There are other technical and scientific objections, but also problems evident to common sense. For example, we know that the books of the New Testament were written mostly for Gentile converts to Christianity. These Gentiles, living in such places as Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Berea, Thessalonica, the regions of the Galatians, and so on, not only were ignorant of Hebrew; they would never have heard of the Essenes. Nonetheless, we are supposed to believe that, in order to understand the Epistles and Gospels written specifically for their instruction, they would have needed a special—dare I say Gnostic?—knowledge of the Essene Hebrew code and how to unlock it.
Thiering would also have us believe that the apostles courted the death of martyrdom for reasons that had nothing to do with actual faith in anything supernatural, such as Christ’s Resurrection. For her pesher method proves that the apostles did not really believe in miracles at all, not even the Resurrection they proclaimed at the peril of their lives. And their converts, unless they knew Hebrew and the Gnostic method, could not begin to grasp the real meaning of all the things the apostles wrote and sent to them—sent, I might add, in times of official persecution to the death. It seems like a pointlessly dangerous effort when you think about it.
Nonetheless, Thiering’s work was given enough serious consideration for her to build a career upon: employment for many years by the University of Sydney, sales of her book, and even a documentary expounding her ideas. The latter, produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and called Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls,was later shown on the Discovery Channel and sold (at the time) as a VHS tape. The promotion for the documentary called her work a challenge to the faith that every Christian needs to take seriously.
Pagels Sells a Lie
Thiering is hardly the only misinformed informer on Christianity; this kind of thing has become all too common. The Da Vinci Code, while not produced in a quasi-academic manner, is a related phenomenon, but a more relevant example is that of Elaine Pagels, whose life work and commercial success have stemmed from her claim to have discovered suppressed Christian writings, as she describes in her book Beyond Belief:
When I entered the Harvard doctoral program, I was astonished to hear from the other students that Professors Helmut Koester and George MacRae, who taught the early history of Christianity, had file cabinets filled with “gospels” and “apocrypha” written during the first centuries. . . . When my fellow students and I investigated these sources we found that they revealed diversity within the Christian movement that later, “official” versions of Christian history had suppressed so effectively that only now, in the Harvard graduate school, did we hear about them.
The trouble is, the “suppression” she writes about never occurred, and no one needed to explore file cabinets in Harvard to find these Gnostic works. One need only to have read some of the fathers of the Church, or to have taken any standard course in church history, in which Gnostic movements have always been part of the subject matter.
But Pagels’s claim of suppression is necessary for her to sell her product. Therefore, the elaborate tale was created. It is a cornerstone of her career to present the Church as having tried to silence the very texts that it, alone, preserved (simply for the sake of teaching its own history). Pagels has simply invented a lie, or fiction if you prefer, which she repeats twice in Beyond Belief:
But in [A.D.] 367 Athanasius, the zealous bishop of Alexandria—an admirer of Irenaeus—issued an Easter letter in which he demanded that Egyptian monks destroy all writings, except for those he specifically listed as “acceptable,” even “canonical.” . . . But someone—perhaps monks at the monastery of St. Pachomius—gathered dozens of the books Athanasius wanted to burn, removed them from the monastery library, sealed them in a heavy, six-foot jar, and intending to hide them, buried them on a nearby hillside near Nag Hammadi.
The only problem with this story is that it never happened. Athanasius did write the Easter Letter of 367, to be sure, but it contained none of the things that Pagels claimed it did.
Book-&-TV Deals
Sensationalism and junk science about Jesus Christ have increased in recent years in the related marketplaces of books and television. For example, in 2006, The Judas Gospel was sensationalized as both a book and as a television special on the National Geographic channel. The English translation of the book has since been discredited, as it became apparent that Judas had been inaccurately described as a “spirit” or a “god” where a proper translation would have called him a “demon.” But if the book and TV special were to achieve commercial success, it was necessary to recast the traitor into a loyal disciple. It sold better.
Not to be outdone by National Geographic, the Discovery Channel produced a heavily publicized special called The Lost Tomb of Jesus for broadcast at Easter time in 2007. Directed by Simcha Jacobovici, who has gone on to work for the History Channel as The Naked Archaeologist (just a name for the show), and produced by Titanic director James Cameron, this “feature documentary” was advertised as making the case that “the 2,000-year-old ‘Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries’ belonged to the family of Jesus of Nazareth” and as revealing “new evidence that throws light on Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene.”
In fact, the “discovery” of the tomb had taken place many years earlier, in 1980. The “evidence” amounted to nothing more than a collection of very ordinary names among Jews of the period, such as would be listed in most families. The methods of genuine science were not allowed to interfere, as Michael Medved pointed out inUSA Today in March 2007:
Nearly all prominent Israeli archaeologists reject [Jacobovici’s] reasoning. Amos Kloner, who conducted the original excavation, has denounced the project as sloppy, exploitative and irresponsible. Joe Zias, who was the curator at Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum for 25 years and personally numbered the now controversial bone boxes, has said this of Jacobovici: “He’s pimping off the Bible. . . . Projects like these make a mockery of the archeological profession.”
(It may be worth pointing out that Medved and the two archaeologists he quoted are Jewish, not Christians with a personal ax to grind.)
There was also a book, The Jesus Family Tomb (co-authored by Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino), to go along with the TV special, and even an article inNewsweek on the subject. Medved noted that this was not coincidental: “Could this sudden flurry of interest possibly relate to the upcoming Easter holiday?”
Exorcism Time
The need today is to exorcise the TV producers and booksellers from some of the academic hideouts that have been providing a basis for their popular credibility and aiding their commercial success. It is not enough to criticize their methods after the fact, or to hold them in disdain behind the scenes.
I look back on that philosophy instructor who taught comparative religion, and feel sorry for her that she missed the bus. If only she had worked to commercialize her crazy idea, it might well have paid off and put her in fat city. Real scholars would have unloaded their scorn and derision in properly objective words, but she could have cried all the way to the bank.
And, even though I was very young, I think I gave a good answer in that classroom all those years ago. “That’s not Christian teaching.” The instructor replied, “Defend that statement.” I replied that Genesis teaches that all of God’s creation is “very good,” that the Church has always believed in the holiness of sacraments that involved such matter as water, oil, bread, and wine, and that, above all, “the Word was made flesh.”
She was visibly annoyed, and continued her lecture with, “As I was saying. . . .”
Robert Hart is rector of St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Anglican Catholic Church Original Province). He also contributes regularly to the blog The Continuum. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Fifth Sunday in Lent commonly called Passion Sunday

Hebrews 9:11-15 * John 8:46-59

The Church, in her wisdom guided by the Holy Spirit, chose today's Gospel reading for the beginning of Passiontide, the climactic final weeks of Lent that carry us right through the betrayal and crucifixion of our Lord on Good Friday. Now, the emphasis is on the cross in a special way, for we must fix our gaze on it and what it means. Before we begin to consider any other aspect of this time of the year, and of our Scripture readings as appointed, and what they teach us, we ought to bear in mind that Jesus foretold his death and resurrection many times long before entering Jerusalem. He meant to go there; he saw the cross as his mission; he insisted on giving his enemies the opportunity to do quite literally, their worst, with such words as:

"And [you] say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers."1
In short, not only did he refuse to avoid the cross; he ran toward it.
And so it is with his words in what we read today:
"Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple."

I will provide an explanation of why this statement is a picture of Jesus running, figuratively speaking, to the cross. But, first, we should clear up one possible objection. It may appear otherwise, inasmuch as at this point in the story He, as it says "hid himself." Frankly, the reply to that objection is obvious: As He had once said to His blessed virgin mother: "mine hour is not yet come." 2 His disciples had not yet been prepared; all things had not yet been accomplished. 3 But, in this passage we see that he gives his enemies a cause for pursuing him, hounding him unto death.

I could say this in my own words, but it was said so well already by Fr. Laurence Wells that I will simply quote from his Passion Sunday bulletin insert:
"God revealed His name...telling Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM.' That mysterious and awesome Name was abbreviated with the one word all devout Israelites past and present feel is too sacred to be uttered aloud, the Divine Name YHWH.
"When Jesus began to make statements, 'I am ....' it surely sounded as if He were claiming for Himself the very Name of God, the Name too holy to be spoken above a whisper. But in John 8:58, He left no room for doubt, when He stated firmly to His opponents, 'Before Abraham was, I AM.' Not only did He claim to be older than Abraham, He claimed to be God. If the words are obscure to us, the meaning was perfectly plain to the Jews. It is no wonder that they attempted to stone Him on the spot."

I do not know how important each of you considers the doctrine of the Incarnation and the doctrine of the Trinity to be; but, understand, that it was Jesus Christ's open revelation of these two doctrines, the eternal truth about himself as God the Word (λo’γος), with God and in the beginning with God, 4 though clearly visible as a man with flesh and blood, that led to his death. He confessed and revealed that he was one with the Father, and it was this that made his enemies mad with hatred, and that caused the opposition and hostility that became present throughout the time of his public ministry among the people. If Eusebius was correct, these things were spoken before most of the events we read about in the other Gospels, even before the Sermon on the Mount where he also spoke of himself as one with God: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord..." 5 However, whether he spoke them very early or near the time of his entry into Jerusalem, the effect of the words, "before Abraham was, I AM," is obvious: They picked up stones meaning to stone him to death.

In chapter 10 of the same Gospel, we see a strikingly similar passage:
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him." 6

The Incarnation and the Trinity are the double theme that sounds clearly in each of the four Gospels, and especially so in the Gospel According to John; it is even more clear in this, the fourth Gospel. And, here, in these passages from that Gospel, we see the strong connection binding together this double theme of Christ the Son of the Everlasting Father, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the theme of the cross. That Jesus is fully God and fully man, that he has revealed his uniqueness as One with the Father, led directly to the enmity that culminated in his cross and death. So, in her wisdom, the Church opens Passiontide with an explicit public statement Jesus made about his divinity: "Before Abraham was, I AM." He revealed this to a hostile world, and he did so because his mission to die for the sins of the world was, as the Scriptures call it, His passion. 7

We see what his cross does for you and for me by hearing the Epistle appointed for this day:

"By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"

Saving the human race from sin and death, most especially those who believe in him, was his passion. For that cause He embraced the cross as His passion. Nothing could keep Him from it. The revelation that He, as He stood before them in creaturely flesh and blood as a man, is One with the Father, was both worth dying for, and was the motive that He handed them to go ahead, in their madness and fury, to seek His execution.

It also tells us that terrible truth we do not want to know. Throughout the history of Christianity many preachers, even some of the brightest, have made a habit of using these passages to speak of the Jews as especially evil, as the ones who hated God. But, if we understand clearly the words of John, we see a double lament in his first chapter, in the eleventh verse: "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." The fact, however, is that John was also one of "his own," that is, His own chosen covenant people. So were all the disciples, So was the Lord's blessed virgin mother. So, also, was God the Son Himself, the incarnate Word. He was flesh in the general sense, fully human. Specifically, as every human being who lives in the world comes from a specific people, He was a Jew; He chose the Jews, and He came into the world as a Jew, born the son of a Jewish virgin, raised in a Jewish home, affirming always the truth of Jewish religion and Scripture as God's own revelation to His one and only chosen, beloved covenant people.

When John specifies "the Jews" he merely relates, on one hand, a fact of history: that is, it was Jewish people to whom, he spoke. But, in emphasizing their Jewish identity (which they shared with Jesus, and his mother and all his disciples), He was not saying they, as Jews, were especially evil. He was saying that even the best people, the people of God who were born into His covenant and who knew His revelation, were lost in sin and death. How much more so, then, were we who were once Gentiles born into a hopeless condition of sin and death, born into the world as children of the devil, needing adoption and new birth to become children of God. We stand in total dependence on, and in need of, God's grace. That is why, in his love for fallen mankind, for you and for me, it was his passion to embrace the cross.

After all, that eleventh verse from John's first chapter follows the tenth verse, which is why I said it is a double lament: "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." The evil of those who "knew him not" as children of the devil is not some special designation of Jewish unbelievers; it is the terrible truth about the whole human race - the world that does not know Christ; for not knowing Christ is what defines "the world." And, but for His grace given to you through baptism and through your faith, it would be the truth about you. You were born a child of the devil, subject to the full wrath of Divine justice. That is, in fact, why the cross was Christ's passion.

When Jesus was betrayed , He called his betrayer "friend.”

"Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him." 8

Judas Iscariot was no friend, was he? But, Jesus was not saying that Judas loved Him; rather he meant that Judas was still the object of His, that is Christ's, love; of Divine love. Christ still loved His betrayer, calling him "friend." And, as everyone can quote, he said about all his persecutors among both the Jews and the Romans, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."9 This is consistent with his words, "And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world."10 Saving the whole world was His passion, whether Jews or Gentiles, that is, the people of all nations. He went to His cross willingly; indeed, no one could have kept Him from it. It was His passion to save all the children of the devil, and make them into the children of God through Himself. Possessing the infinite power of Divine love, He calls his enemies and betrayers, and you and me, "friend."

1. Matt. 23: 30-32
2. John 2:4
3. John 17: 1, 4
4. John 1: 1-14
5. Matt. 7:21, 22
6. John 10:27-31
7. Acts 1:3
8. Matt. 26:48-50
9. Luke 23:34
10. John 10: 47