Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Great Western Earthquake

Reformation Day 2014

The date that marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation is October 31, 1517. No one could have known it then, but what happened that day set in motion an earthquake whose aftershocks are still being felt in the western churches today.

That earthquake had three epicenters, one in Wittenberg with Martin Luther, another in Geneva with John Calvin, and still another in Canterbury with Thomas Cranmer.

What were the contributions of each of these men?

Wittenberg: Martin Luther (1483-1546)

On October 31, 1517, the eve of All Saints' Day, the monk Martin Luther nailed a statement to the church door in Wittenberg, offering to debate his Ninety-five
Theses. At the time what most troubled Luther was the sale of indulgences which were said to obtain remission of the temporal punishments of sin for the individual or for a loved one in purgatory. Tetzel, their salesman, is supposed to have created a couplet to aid the sale of the indulgences:
As soon as a coin in the coffer rings 
the soul from purgatory springs
There are two contributions I associate with Martin Luther.

Supremacy of Scripture. Luther was required to appear and answer for his condemned writings at an assembly held at Worms and presided over by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V. The man who represented the Empire and the Roman Catholic Church was John Eck. Eck laid Luther's writings on a table, and asked if the writings were Luther's and if Luther stood by what he had written. Luther was backed into a corner. Would he assert that what he had written was the truth or would he submit to the church and recant his writings as being in error? His famous answer was:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
Secularists and theological liberals like to think that Luther struck a blow for the supremacy of individual autonomy against authority, particularly church authority. That's wishful thinking. Luther had studied the Bible and become convinced that the Roman Catholic Church now held serious error. Popes and church councils could make mistakes and had. What then was the ultimate authority? God speaking in Holy Scripture. The Scriptures stood above the church and its hierarchy. The church had to submit to Scripture interpreted by the use of God-given reason.

What Luther did was serious and revolutionary in his day. It put his life in danger, but, more important, it could potentially put people's souls in danger. It was not his intent to undermine the church or its legitimate authority. He surely was not thinking to assert the authority of private judgment, every man alone with his Bible and the Holy Spirit deciding what Scripture says and what he would believe. But what was he to do with the dilemma? Would he choose to submit himself to the authority of the church or would he call upon the church to submit itself to the authority of Holy Scripture?

Luther's choice had consequences he could not have foreseen and which he would surely reject. He did not mean to make every man his own pope or to subject the church to seemingly endless divisions. Nevertheless, Luther made the right choice. The Bible is the supreme authority, and even the church in its teaching ministry must submit to the Scriptures.

Centrality of Justification. Luther faced a theological and personal problem. The theological problem was, "How can a man be right (justified = accepted as righteous) with God?" The personal problem was, "How can I be right with God?" Luther believed that God is righteous and that God requires righteousness of us. But how can man who is a sinner be righteous before a perfectly righteous God? Luther tried very hard to be a righteous man, but, no matter how hard he tried and how successful he was, he always came up short. His best wasn't good enough. His conscience tormented him. He was frustrated with himself and angry with God, because what God demanded of him Luther could not produce.

The breakthrough that opened all of the Scriptures to Luther came as he contemplated Romans 1:17: "For therein the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to to faith; as it is written,The just shall live by faith." To this point his understanding had been that God is righteous, that God requires that man attain righteousness by doing the things commanded by the law and the church, and that God in righteousness must condemn and punish unrighteous man. Then he realized that the righteousness of which Paul speaks is the righteousness that God provides in Christ and is received by faith. Forgiveness comes from Christ's dying for our sin. Righteousness is found wholly in Christ (an "alien" or "outside us" righteousness) and is imputed (accounted) to us. We are saved by the grace of God alone, not by human co-operation with God. We are saved by faith alone, not by human works or goodness.

In recent years, the theologian N.T. Wright (with others) has challenged Luther and asserted that he (and the other Reformers) did not understand Paul. For Luther justification is a legal term having to do whom God regards as righteous; for Wright it is a relational term having to do with membership among God's covenant people. Justification for Luther is about the doctrine of salvation; for Wright it is about the doctrine of the church. For Luther justification is individual; for Wright it is communal. For Luther we are justified (declared righteous) by faith in Christ and his righteousness; for Wright we are justified (included among God's people) by acknowledging and following Jesus as Messiah and Lord.

Anglican Gerald Bray has written: "Nowadays some people claim that the righteousness of God refers primarily to the covenant community of God's people, something which was achieved by the works of the law in the Old Testament and is now by the church as the body of Christ." After pointing that this "communitarian" view was held neither by Roman Catholics or Protestants (both of whom Wright believes wrong because they did understand Paul's religious background), Bray says, "Either way (R.C. or Protestant) it (justification) applied to individuals not groups and modern theories to the contrary notwithstanding, this approach still seems to be the one that is most faithful to the meaning of the Biblical text" (The Faith We Confess, pp. 74-75).

Luther said of justification by faith alone,"This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification, is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness."

Geneva: John Calvin (1509-1564)

Luther was bombastic; Calvin was rational. Luther was hot; Calvin was cool (though he had a temper).  Luther was the man I'd like to drink beer with on Friday; Calvin was the man whose class
I'd like to attend on Monday. I'd like to sit at Luther's table; I'd like to sit beneath Calvin's pulpit. I'd prefer Luther's style; I'd prefer Calvin's content. Two of Calvin's best biographers are Anglicans, T.H.L. Parker and Alister McGrath.

There are two contributions I associate with John Calvin.

Clarity of the Commentaries. Calvin produced commentaries on almost all the books of the Bible. Calvin's commentaries are scholarly, but clear, concise, pastoral, and practical. Though written 450 years ago they remain very helpful aids to the understanding of the Holy Scriptures. Dr. Joseph Haroutunian of McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, writes:
...we find Calvin bent upon establishing what a given author in fact said...Allegorizing was misunderstanding, and misunderstanding was the evil a scholar had to avoid by all means... he was protesting not against finding a spiritual meaning in a passage, but against finding one that was not there. The Word of God written for the upbuilding of the church was of course spiritual, but in the primary sense of leading to the knowledge of God and obedience to him. Calvin’s “literalism” establishes rather than dissolves the mystery of the Word of God, provided for the Christian’s help and comfort.  
...Calvin was a conscientious historical critic. His comments did not degenerate into the undisciplined exhortation which often goes with “practical preaching.” He neither practiced nor encouraged irresponsibility toward “the genuine sense” of Scripture...any “spiritual” meaning other than one derived from the author’sintention was at once misleading and unedifying.
One has only to consult Calvin on a few given passages of Scripture to recognize that he is indeed a teacher without an equal. Calvin comments with the conviction that any passage of Scripture he may examine contains a Word of God full of God’s wisdom, applicable to the condition of his hearers and readers in one respect or another. This conviction enables him to respond to the Bible with a vitality and intelligence... 
Dr. Haroutunian sums up nicely:
Calvin published his Commentaries to give his readers insight into the Word of God and to point out its relevance to their own life and situation. To this end he cultivated accuracy, brevity, and lucidity. He achieved his purpose to a degree that has aroused the admiration and gratitude of generations of readers. And in this day...a man who would understand his Bible will do well to have Calvin’s Commentaries within easy reach.
System of the Theology. When Mortimer Adler of the University of Chicago was asked by William F. Buckley if there was anything omitted that he wished had been included in the Great Books series, he replied "Calvin." The second edition of the Great Books included a whole volume (20) with selections from Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. Historian Will Durant counted the Institutes among the world's ten most influential books. Calvin scholar John T. McNeill wrote, "Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is one of the few books that have profoundly affected the course of history."

Calvin was the first of the Reformers to produce what we now call a systematic theology, the first edition published in 1536, the final much fuller edition in 1559. The structure of the work is the traditional Christian catechesis: The Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer. With this structure Calvin deals with all the essential subjects of theology, including the Trinity, the Person and Work of Christ, the Holy Spirit, ecclesiology, sacramentology, etc.

A systematic theology is an effort to organize the teaching of the Bible in categories such as the doctrine of God or the doctrine of salvation. The Institutes are a systematic exposition of the Christian faith, an explanation and defense of the historic catholic faith. Calvin reveals an excellent working knowledge of the church fathers, whom he greatly respects. More important Calvin consciously intends to go "back to the source" and ground all of theology in the Holy Scriptures.

Recently the whole idea of systematic theology has been questioned by many scholars, including N.T. Wright (see above). The criticism is that systematic theology imposes an order and system on the Bible so that the message of the Bible is distorted. The way to approach and understand the Bible is by means of exegesis (vocabulary, grammar, historical setting, immediate context) and in light of Biblical theology (the unfolding of God's saving work in the Bible and its history). Systematic theology is categorized as "scholastic" because it takes a "scientific" approach to the Bible, treating it as though it were another department in the curriculum of the university.

This objection to systematic theology seems to me wrong. Systematic theology begins with the conviction that the Bible is a book of truth given to us by God. It is true that truth is not revealed to us in the abstract but concretely in history. God has spoken in the Bible progressively, revealing himself and his plan of salvation. However, while God revealed himself progressively in history, God does not contradict himself. What God has revealed is harmonious with itself.  Systematic theology believes that God has so constructed the human mind and human language as to lead us to think about truths in categories. The truths of God's Word can be developed and understood in relationship with one one another. Systematic theology answers the questions, "What does the Bible say about....?" and, "How does what God says about x relate to what he says about y?" Exegetical theology, Biblical theology, and systematic theology are not enemies or even rivals but friends who work together and mutually support each other.

Biographer T.H.L. Parker brings together Calvin the exegete and Calvin the theologian:
"I am eager for people to know Calvin not because he was without flaws, or because he was the most influential theologian of the last 500 years (which he was), or because he shaped Western culture (which he did), but because he took the Bible so seriously, and because what he saw on every page was the majesty of God and the glory of Christ.

Canterbury: Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556)

There is one man who links Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Thomas Cranmer. Martin Bucer was the
friend of all three. Bucer came to the Protestant faith under the influence of Martin Luther. Later in Strasbourg he influenced John Calvin. After his exile to England, he had an impact on the Reformation there, especially on the second Book of Common Prayer.

Of the three Reformers we are considering, only Cranmer died for the Protestant faith. Cranmer
served as Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. Henry had set the church and nation free from Rome, but he wasn't much interested in reformation of the church's worship and doctrine. Cranmer was, and, when Edward VI, still a boy and a convinced Protestant, succeeded his father, the reformation made real progress. However, Edward died still a teenager and was succeeded by his half-sister and Henry's daughter, the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor. She reversed the reformation and eventually had Cranmer burned at the stake.

There are two contributions I associate with Cranmer.

Book of Common Prayer.The primary factor that led me to Anglicanism was The Book of Common Prayer. I came to believe that the so-called "directed worship" of Presbyterianism allowed for all the chaos of worship one sees across the spectrum of evangelicalism.The only solution I saw and see is prescribed worship, and I believed that the Prayer Book provided ordered, Biblical, Protestant, reverent worship. I came also to believe that there is no reason to drive a wedge between written prayers and the spirit of prayer. And, as one friend (a Prayer Book user but not an Anglican) puts it, "If you can do better than the Prayer Book with free prayer, have it." My conviction is that the Prayer Book gives us substance to pray that would never occur to the vast majority of evangelical ministers or people. To put it another way, my heart resonates with the Prayer Book.

Cranmer wanted to reform the church's worship to make it consistent with Protestant theology while conserving what he could of  the historic liturgy. James Wood in his introduction to the Penguin edition of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer writes:
Theologically the 1559/1662 Book of Common Prayer is both radical and conservative. Its Protestantism can be felt in its emphasis on man's sinful depravity, and on the unearned gift of God's salvation (justification by faith alone, not by good works). One scholar has said that "the triple beat of sin-grace-faith runs through the whole book." 
Cranmer ensured that the Anglican Prayer Book took a definite position on the fraught (and violent) issue of the eucharistic "real presence"...This insistence can be felt in the words the presiding minister says to the Anglican communicant as he offers the sacraments: 
The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life: Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed upon him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.
Still...the Book of Prayer was also an eclectic and consoling, even conservative document, the least revolutionary and more Catholic of the European Protestant liturgies...Along with the services of Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Holy Communion the 1662 Prayer Book has a calendar of the church year; a list of saints' days...liturgies for special days...; and services for the Burial of the Dead...and so on. Gordon James points out that it was clever of Cranmer to borrow collects and prayers from the English Catholic and monastic traditions, from Greek Orthodox and from old Spanish rites...
Above all, the Book of Common Prayer offered Cranmer's language as a kind of binding agent, a rhetoric both lofty and local, archaic and familiar...  
Articles of Religion. In addition to the Prayer Book Cranmer also gave us the Articles of Religion. One of the things that troubled me about the branch of Presbyterianism of which I was a part was subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism, and the Shorter Catechism. I heard man after man take no exceptions and offer no clarifying statements. Every time I wondered, "With as many words and and the amount of detail there is in these documents, how can this be?" While I believe that the Westminster Standards, which as J.I. Packer points out were written by an Assembly the majority of whom were Anglicans, are a most excellent statement of Christian faith, I appreciate the Articles for their brevity.

But what kind of doctrine is found in the Articles?They are catholic in that they affirm the catholic theology of the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. But they are also clearly Protestant, as distinct from Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologies, in places reflecting Lutheran theology and in other places (especially on Baptism and the Lord's Supper) reflecting Calvinistic (Reformed) theology. Gerald Bray has written:
The Thirty-nine Articles are usually printed with the 1662 Prayer Book, but they have a different history (from The Prayer Book)...The Articles were given official status by King Charles I in 1628; since then they have been the accepted doctrinal standards of the Church of England. Other Anglican churches have received them to a greater or lesser has to be said that most Anglicans today are scarcely aware of their existence. Even the clergy have seldom studied them, and only evangelicals now take them seriously as doctrine. 
The Articles are not a comprehensive systematic theology in the way that the Westminster Confession is, but they do address questions of theological controversy in a systematic way. In that sense, they are more advanced than earlier Protestant doctrinal statements. They start with the doctrine of God, go on to list the canon of Scripture, and then get into more controversial subjects. Justification by faith alone is clearly stated, and there is also a clear defense of predestination. The sacraments are numbered as two only, and they are defined as witnesses to the Gospel. Towards the end there are articles defining the powers of the civil magistrate, along with one that sanctions the two books of Homilies, collections of sermons in which the doctrines of the Articles and Prayer Book are more fully expounded... perhaps their brief and judicious statements will one day gain them greater acceptance within the wider Reformed community.
I would prefer for Anglicans not to separate Cranmer the liturgist Cranmer from Cranmer the theologian and not to separte the Prayer Book from The Articles. The Prayer Book and the Articles come to us from the same author (in the main) and should be assumed to be in harmony with one another.  On the great Protestant doctrines of the authority of Scripture and of justification by faith alone they are one. On the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion there is to my mind no conflict between them nor between them and the Continental Reformed. The Prayer Book and the Articles give doctrine which is truly catholic and decidedly Protestant.

Wittenberg, Geneva, Canterbury. Luther, Calvin, Cranmer. An earthquake with three epicenters. May the quake continue to roll.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The First Pentecostal Church of Jerusalem

A Picture of the Church

A Reformation Sunday Homily

Before I read the text for today’s homily, which is Acts 2:42, let me give you a little background. Most of Acts 2 records the events of the day of Pentecost when the ascended Christ poured out his Holy Spirit on the Church. The Spirit filled the Apostles and enabled them to preach the Gospel in languages they had never learned. That day Peter preached to a large crowd crowd in Jerusalem. The result was that many were convicted of their sin, convinced that Jesus is Savior and Lord, and converted. Three thousand were baptized. In the last part of Acts 2 St. Luke describes life in early days of the Jerusalem church. The description  begins with our text.

Text: Acts 2:42
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Today is Reformation Sunday. The great Reformers were Luther in Germany, Calvin in Geneva, and Cranmer in England. These men looked at the medieval church and concluded that the church had become seriously deformed and needed to be reformed. So they went back to the first five centuries of Christianity, to the Church Fathers, and they went back further still to the New Testament writings. They asked the question, “What was the church like in days of the Apostles?” The Apostolic Church of the first century was their pattern for reforming the Church of the sixteenth century.

Acts chapter two, verse forty-two, is a key text that gives a picture of what the Church should be.

1. The Apostles’ Doctrine

Luke tells us Jerusalem Church continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine. Doctrine means both the act of teaching and the content of teaching.

The Apostles devoted themselves to teaching what they had learned from Christ. When he gave the Great Commission Jesus charged the Apostles to make disciples of the nations by baptizing and “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mt. 28: 19). They saw teaching and prayer as their highest priorities. When caring for the church’s widows began to take too much of their time and energy, they said to the church, “It is not right that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables...we will give ourselves continually unto prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 2:2,4.) Those of us who are called to ministry must remind ourselves of the priority of teaching God’s word, particularly by our preaching in gathered worship. God calls us to study study, interpret, and understand  the Word of Truth so there will be no need for us to be ashamed of our work (2 Tim. 2:15) as we teach and proclaim that Word to you.

Not only must ministers devote themselves to teaching God’s Word, but you also are called to devote yourself to the receiving that teaching, making always the worship of the Lord on Sundays your first priority. Listening to and learning the Apostolic doctrine in church is for you, as well as for Pastor Rich and me, a high privilege and solemn duty, and a spiritual necessity. The Scriptures alone can make us wise for salvation by faith in Jesus Christ  and are profitable to us for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:15,16). You come to church to do more than learn, but never forget that you come to learn, for your soul’s welfare depends on it.

Apostolic doctrine means also the content of the teaching. The Apostles showed how the Old Testament pointed to Christ. They proclaimed what Jesus had done - his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension. They declared the meaning of these things - that Jesus had obtained for us the forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with God, and eternal life in God’s kingdom. They taught that salvation call us to a way of life, not to earn our salvation, but to live out our gratitude for it.

The Apostolic teaching has been inscripturated or committed to writing in the New Testament. The church has no right to change the Apostolic teaching to suit the whims and demands of times and cultures. The greatest danger to Christianity in the West is that some parts of the Christian church are doing just that. The New Testament writer Jude has a timely charge to us to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

But we cannot contend for what we do not know, understand, and believe. Our church’s statement  of faith, or summary of the Apostles’ doctrine, is the Thirty-nine Articles. Have you read them? Do you understand and believe them? They are in the back of your Prayer Book - I trust you have a Prayer Book at home - I encourage you to read the Articles often. They are are clear and brief statement of the Apostles’ doctrine.

2. The Fellowship

Second, St. Luke tells us that the congregation in Jerusalem continued steadfastly in the fellowship. The word fellowship is one of the most  frequently used words among Christians. The Greek word translated as fellowship is one of the few that many Christians know - koinonia.

Many churches have “fellowship dinners.” People bring different dishes - a meat,  a starch, a vegetable, a dessert - a potluck supper as some put it. When all the food is on a table, people line up go past the table to get what they want. I have two observations as a veteran of these meals. One is that children need supervision by their parents. The other is that the fried chicken always runs out before I get to it.  Having a meal together at church  is about the extent of the fellowship among many Christians. But these meals do give us an illustration fellowship. Fellowship means to share in something with others. What you share in creates a bond with others. With fellowship dinners people eat the food together. The share in the food, and and they share in  it together. We could say that this is food fellowship.

What do we as Christians share in together?

Fellowship is created by the truth - the truth of Apostolic doctrine. This is something many Christians get backwards. They say, “Let’s not worry about doctrine Let’s focus on love and fellowship. Doctrine can be divisive.” Doctrine is not the enemy of fellowship, but it’s friend.  Just yesterday we ministers received a pastoral letter from Nigerian Archbishop
Archbishop Wabukala
Wabukala, who is chairman of  GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) a conservative group seeking reform within Anglicanism by confessing the truth of the great creeds - the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds - and of the Thirty-nine Articles. Archbishop Wabukala says there is an erosion of confidence in the institutions of Anglicanism, and there is a reason for it:  “We must remember that the fundamental reason for this is doctrinal. We are divided because the Faith is threatened by unbiblical teaching.” Doctrine grounded in the Apostolic faith is uniting, departure from it is dividing.
Christian fellowship is sharing in receiving and believing the Apostolic doctrine.

Fellowship is grounded in worship. In Acts 2:42 Luke describes what the Christians did when they gathered with each other. They received Apostolic doctrine; they broke bread; they prayed. All these are things Christians do in worship. Too often, when Christians think about fellowship, they have in mind a feeling they have for one another, or an experience they have together, having a potluck dinner or a church bowling night. But the most important experience we have together, and the one that most binds us together, is what we are doing right now - worshiping. One of the greatest blessings we have as Reformed Episcopalians is our common worship through the Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer is what most drew me to Episcopalianism. There is so much chaos in worship among other Protestants, and as much as they deny it, it is almost impossible to have true Christian unity where there are such divergences of worship practices. Let us not take for granted our Book that unites us in the worship of God. Christian fellowship is sharing in worship God with one another.

Fellowship is expressed in loving and caring for one another. When we share in the Apostolic doctrine and in common worship, our fellowship will spill over into the ways we love and  care for one another. We have an “unfeigned love” and “love one another from a pure heart fervently” (1 Pet.1:22). Our goal is to “be like-minded, have the same love, (to be)  of one accord, of one mind.” We seek “in lowliness of mind (to) esteem (each) other (as) better than them(our)selves. We “look not to  his (our) own things, but every man on the things of others” (Phil. 2:2-4). The practical outworking is that we meet each other’s needs. St. Luke tells us that “Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them and, and brought the prices of the things that were sold...and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need”  (Acts 4:34,35). This was not a failed early experiment in communism, but an expression of Christian love and commitment to do whatever was necessary to care for one another. Fellowship is sharing in love and concern for one another.

All Christian fellowship is ultimately found in Jesus Christ. The Apostolic doctrine is about the saving work of God in Jesus; worship takes place by the saving mediation of Jesus; love and care for one another is loving and caring for those Jesus loved and cared for enough to save. Fellowship is sharing with one another in Jesus and his salvation.

3. The Breaking of Bread

Third St. Luke tells us that the church at Jerusalem continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread.

What is this breaking of bread? A first look might lead to our thinking that this Christians having meals together. A few verses later, St. Luke says, “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46,47).  However, verse 26 seems to summarize the daily life of Christians in Jerusalem. They went to the temple; they shared meals in homes; they praised God; they enjoyed favor with the people.

Acts 2:42 describes their gatherings for worship and more likely reflects the sacramental language of Luke 22 where in the Upper Room our Lord “took bread and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave it unto them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you: do this in remembrance of me’“ (19). Later in Acts St. Luke tells us about Paul’s visit to Troas where “upon the first day of the week...the disciples came together to break bread…(and)...Paul preached to them” (20:7). It’s Sunday, and followers of Christ in Troas meet together for the breaking of bread and preaching, for Word and Sacrament.

In 1 Corinthians 10 St. Paul writes, “The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? For we are we being many are one bread, and one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread” (10:17). The bread we break is the bread the minister breaks in the Eucharist. What happens in that Holy Supper? We have communion with Christ, and we express our fellowship with one another.

In the New Testament Word and Sacrament go together as proclamation and sign. The Word proclaims the Gospel to us, and the Sacrament pictures and seals to us that same Gospel. Together they unite us to Christ by faith. And, united to the sacrificed body and shed blood of Christ we are united to one another. When we come together at the Lord’s Supper, we confess our sins and renew our faith so that nothing stands in the way of our communion with Christ, and we put away the old leaven of malice and wickedness and renew our commitment to live in love with one another so that nothing keeps us from communion with one another.

Article XXVIII (28) of our Faith states this beautifully: “The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly and worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break  is partaking of the Body of Christ; likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.”

4. The Prayers

Last St. Luke tells us that the church at Jerusalem continued steadfastly in the prayers.

These prayers are not the private prayers of God’s people but the prayers they prayed when they came together in worship. According to St. Luke, when Jesus cleansed the Temple, he said, “It is written, My house is the house of prayer” (19:26). The temple had regular hours of prayer (Acts 3:1). When the synagogue system developed so that people who could not often come to the Temple could worship the services were very much like our Office of Daily Prayer, including the reading of lessons from the Old Testament and the recitation of forms of prayer.

The Book of Common Prayer is a great treasure for us and the whole church. The Book of Common Prayer is, of course, more than prayer in the narrow sense of adoration, thanksgiving, confession, petition, and intercession. It is, rather, the whole of our drawing to God and God’s drawing near to us.  But it is certainly prayer in the narrow sense. It gives us the words with which we pray to God, praising him, requesting his forgiveness, and asking his blessings upon other sand our ourselves.

We should never allow a wedge to be driven between the form of prayer and the spirit of prayer, between the words of prayer and the heart of prayer. There is no magic in merely reciting the words of the prayers. Engagement of our tongues without engagement of our minds and hearts is empty. We must not allow prayer to become rote. On the other hand forms of prayer, words given to us by the Prayer Book, are no enemy of genuine  heart religion. The Prayer Book both leads our hearts into the spirit of prayer and gives us deeply spiritual  words with which to pour out our hearts to God.

Thank God for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, the Litanies, and Holy Communion. We use these forms of prayer every Sunday. And we can continue these prayers in our homes. There are places online where you can read or  listen to Morning and Evening Prayer. And you will find in the back of your Prayer Book Forms of Prayer for Families (pp. 593-605). Take advantage of these resources.

Sometimes you need a clear picture to understand.  In Acts 2:42 St. Luke paints a word picture of the ordinary life of the church. The church devotes itself with fervency and frequency to the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dying to Be Protestant

Oxford Martyrs' Day
October 16

During my lifetime the the United States has won one war, the first Gulf War. The others - Korea, Viet Nam, and the second Gulf War - resulted in loss or draw. I have come to think that our nation ought not to go to war unless our President can say to parents who have lost sons, wives who have lost husbands, and children who have lost fathers, "This is what your loved one died for, and it was worth it."

Today is Oxford Martyrs' Day. On October 16, 1555, Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, having been tried at the University Church of St. Mary and condemned for heresy, were tied to stakes and burned alive. On March 21, 1556, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer,
primary author of the Book of Common Prayer and The Articles of Religion, also died at the stake. Cranmer's faith stumbled after the deaths of Ridley and Latimer. He signed documents renouncing his Protestant faith, but on the day of his execution (Mary decided to make an example of him), when he was supposed to make a public recantation of his errors, he recanted his recantations, and said he had in those recantations affirmed what he did not in his heart believe.

Edward VI
Under King Henry VIII, the English church renounced the primacy of the Church of Rome and the authority of the Pope. Though the reforming of the Church of England was slow and little because of Henry's hesitancy, freedom from Rome opened the possibilities for reform as Cranmer and other scholar-leaders came under the influence of the continental Reformation, in both Lutheran and Reformed manifestations. Upon Henry's death his young son, "the Boy King" Edward VI, came to the throne. Edward sincerely believed the Protestant faith for himself and assented to and supported the reforms proposed by Cranmer and his allies. However, Edward's life was cut short, and he died at age 16 in 1543.

Upon his death, an attempt was made to install his cousin Lady Jane Grey as Queen, but she was
Mary I
deposed and decapitatited, and (Bloody) Mary, a Roman Catholic, assumed the throne and tried to return the Church to its allegiance to Roman authority, doctrine, and practice. It was Mary who saw Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer, and about 200 others put to death. 

On Oxford Martyrs Day I believe it is worth asking, "What did Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer die for?" Answered simply, they died for the Protestant faith.

While the whole Protestant faith as set out in The (then 42, later 39) Articles of Religion was on trial in the persons of these Martyrs, two issues came to fore, Papal Supremacy and the Mass.`

The Martyrs stuck by The Articles on the matter of Rome: 
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatsover is not read therein, nor may be proved therein, is not to be required in any man, that it should be believed as an article of Faith...(VI)
As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith (XIX).
It is not lawful for the church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written...although the church be a witness and keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought to decree any thing against the same, so besides it ought not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation (XX).
General Councils...when gathered together...may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. 
Cranmer represented the view of all three when in his recantation of his recantation he said, "And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ's enemy, and Antichrist with all his false doctrine." One can disagree, as do I, with Cranmer's identification of the Pope with the Antichrist, yet fully agree with him in his rejection of the supremacy of Rome and the authority of the Pope.

With regard to the Mass, there were two related issues, if and how Christ is present and whether any propitiatory sacrifice is made in Holy Communion. Again the martyrs stuck with The Articles:
The sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them (XXV). 
The Supper of the a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ. 
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of our Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.
The body of Christ is given taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. and the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.
The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped (XXVII).
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 the Masses, in which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead. to have remission of pain and guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits (XXXI).
At his trial Ridley answered the charges against him. “I do not deny that in the sacrament, by spirit and grace, is the very body and blood of Christ. Every man receiving the bread or wine spiritually receives the body and blood of Christ. But I deny that the body and blood of Christ is in the sacrament the way you say it is...There is a change in the bread and wine, and yet the bread is still bread and wine is still wine.." Asked if Christ were sacrificed in the Mass, Latimer replied, "No. Christ made one perfect sacrifice. No one can offer Him up again. Neither can the priest offer Him for the sins of man, which He took away by offering Himself once for all upon the cross.” 

The Oxford Martyrs Memorial, which was completed in 1843, bears this inscription: 
To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which
they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLI.
If the martyrs died in the mid-1500s, why was the Memorial built and dedicated 300 years later? The mid-1800s saw the rise of the Tractarian Movement and Anglo-Catholicism. In response ministers of the Church of England had the Monument erected to remind the Church of the content its Faith and price some paid to bear witness to and preserve it. 

The question remains today, Was it worth it?

Celebrating Christmas Eve last year in another city, I was happy to find that there was a nearby Anglican parish where a service would be held. I went to the service with high expectations. The minister and I shared of history of having come to Anglicanism after being part of the Presbyterian Church in America. The parish's Facebook description of itself, included these statements, "As a traditional Anglican parish we believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God and that they contain all things necessary to salvation. We further affirm...the 39 Articles of Religion of the Church of England in their literal and grammatical sense..." The first thing that disturbed me was the smoke. But, then it became serious. The priest repeatedly genuflected before the consecrated elements (hosts) on the Table (altar), including the unused consecrated bread (host) placed in the "Tabernacle." In distress I thought to myself, "The English martyrs burned so that we could do this?"

On November 4 I will have been an Anglican for a year. That was the date my Bishop received me as a Presbyter into the Reformed Episcopal Church. On this my first Oxford Martyrs' Day, I bear witness that I believe the deaths of the Martyrs was worth. What they died confessing I do now confess. And for their witness I give thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ. I am a Protestant Anglican. (Isn't that a redudancy?)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Is R.C. Sproul Saved?

Will Few Be Saved?

R.C. Sproul

Last night I was checking out Facebook posts when I came across an individual's re-post of R.C. Sproul's statement that Calvinism is more than the Five Points; it's a worldview. The follow-up comments quickly took an unexpected turn toward the Christian year.

Dr. Sproul observes and leads others to observe a calendar of special days, such as Christmas, Easter, Pentecost. A female posted a comment bemoaning that Dr. Sproul practices this "idolatry" and walks this "destructive path." Perhaps she was careless about her language, but, since turning to God means turning away from idols and since the wide door and wide path lead to destruction, it's a serious thing she said. So I asked, "Does this mean Dr. Sproul is going to hell and leading others there?" This got me booted from the comments, so I do not know if or how she answered.

But this got me thinking again about the matter of who is a Christian and who is not. I do know this is none of our business for two reasons. First, in the ultimate sense, only God knows who is a Christian (saved, going to heaven, etc.). As the saying goes, we "don't know the heart." Second, on earth it is the business of the church to judge who is a Christian (though this begs the questions: what is the church? what churches are true churches?).

But, give me a break, we are talking "evangelical" here, and individual evangelicals are quite used to distinguishing individuals as Christians and non-Christians. In the evangelical mind, however, the term "Christian" is no longer hard currency so adjectives must be used. On the negative side there are: nominal, professing, head- knowledge Christians. On the positive side there are real, evangelical, genuine, born-again, consecrated, on-fire Christians. 

Even separated fundamentalists face these issues about who is in and who is out as is evidenced by the fact they not infrequently separate from one another as individuals and institutions. (Consider the case of Pensacola Christian College and Bob Jones University.) But what intrigues me is the way the evangelicals work these things out. Yesterday Carl Trueman noted the effort to make an evangelical out of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which in a way he, as a Lutheran, was, but which he was not in the Bebbington* sense. So I ask, Was Bonhoeffer a Christian? Do you expect him in heaven?

I wonder about these guys whom not a few evangelicals admire.

What about this guy?


What about this guy?

J.R.R. Tolkien

What about this guy?

C.S. Lewis

What about this guy?

Carl Trueman

But what about this guy?

* Historian David Bebbington's Definition:

Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a "born-again" experience and a life long process of following Jesus.

Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts

Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority

Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sex, Religion, Episcopalians, and Lutherans

Dueling Ministers



Sex and religion are two dominant and intertwining themes in the work of John Updike - which makes sense as they have the same roles in life. In the first of the Rabbit novels, Rabbit, Run (1960), Harry Angstrom (Rabbit), trapped in an unhappy marriage, leaves his pregnant wife and hooks up with a hooker in her apartment. So much for the sex; on to the religion.

The wife's parents are "Episcopalians, more of the old phony's social climbing, they were originally Reformeds." Harry's working class parents are Lutherans.  When the parents of Harry's wife call their young Episcopal minister (apparently in Updike's experience it was not common to call them priests in 1960) to tell him what has happened, he contacts Rabbit and seeks to engage him, using golf as one of their points of contact. When Jack Eccles (the Episcopal minister) visits with the deserted wife's acerbic mother, she can't help getting in a dig:
Mother: Yes I wouldn't want your job for the world.
Eccles: I enjoy it most of the time.
Mother: They say you do. They say you're becoming quite an expert golf player.

Jack Eccles also calls on the pastor of the Harry's parents' Lutheran parish, the Rev. Fritz Kruppenbach. The older pastor is already irritated about his wife's calling him in from mowing the back lawn to speak with the Episcopalian, and his mood does not improve as Jack describes his efforts to minister to Harry. The interaction of the two ministers reveals two contrasting views of the church and ministry. Kruppenbach, whose German accent "makes his words seem like stones, set angrily on top of one another" says:
Do you think, do you think this is your job, to meddle in these people's lives? I know what they teach you at seminary now: this psychology and that. But I don't agree with it. You think your job is to be an unpaid doctor, to run around and plug up the holes and make everything smooth. I don't think that. I don't think that is your job. 
...I've been in Mt. Judge twenty-seven years and you've been here two. I've listened to your story but I wasn't listening to what it said about the people, I was listening to what it said about you. What I heard was this: the story of a minister of God selling his message for a few scraps of gossip and a few games of golf. What do you think now it looks like to God, one childish husband leaving one childish wife? Do you think any more what God sees? Or have you grown beyond that?
When Jack tries to explain the way he sees his role in this situation, Kruppenbach cuts him off:
It seems to you our role is to be cops, cops without handcuffs, without guns, without anything but our human good nature. Isn't it right? Don't answer, just think if I'm not right. Well, I say that's the Devil's idea. I say let the cops be cops, and look after their laws that have nothing to do with us.
Jack tries to express his agreement "up to a point", but the Lutheran presses on:
There iss not up to a point! If Gott wants to end misery, He'll declare his kingdom now. How big do you think your little friends look among the billions God sees? In Bombay now they die on the streets every minute. You say role. I say you don't know what your role is or you'd be home locked in prayer. There is your role: to make yourself an exemplar of faith. There is where comfort comes from: faith, not what little finagling a body can do here and there, stirring the bucket. In running back and forth you run from the duty given to you by God, to make your faith powerful, so when the call comes you can go out and tell them, 'Yes he is dead, but you will see him again in heaven. Yes, you suffer, but you must love your pain because it is Christ's pain.' When on Sunday morning then, we go before their faces, we must walk up not worn with misery, but filled with Christ, hot with Christ, on fire : burn them with the force of our belief. That is why they come; why else would they pay us? Anything else we can do or say anyone else can do and say. They have doctors and lawyers for that. It's all in the Book - a thief with faith is worth all the Pharisees. Make no mistake. There is nothing but Christ for us. All the rest, all this busyness is nothing. It is the Devil's work. 
The old German pietist is interrupted by his wife's calling him to supper. But, before he leaves his study, he (not invites but) challenges the Episcopalian:
Will you kneel a moment with me and pray for Christ to come into this room? 
Jack Eccles, is honest enough to answer,
No. No I won't. I'm too angry. It would be hypocritical.
Updike describes how this encounter with the old Lutheran pastor leaves the young Episcopal minister:
His heart is beating like a scolded child's and his knees are weak with fury. He had come for an exchange of information and been flagellated with an insane spiel. Unctuous old thundering Hun, no conception of the ministry as a legacy of light, probably himself scrambled into it out of a butcher's shop. Jack realizes these are spiteful and unworthy thoughts but he can't stop them. His depression is so deep he tries to gouge it deeper by telling himself He's right, he's right...he can't cry; he's parched. His shame and failure hang downward in him heavy but fruitless. 
It's suppertime, and Eccles should go home. Instead he goes to the drugstore and orders an ice cream soda and drinks two glasses of water while he waits. This is where he feels most at home - "in Godless public places."

As a 2-K guy, I admire the Lutheran's two-kingdoms view and its impact on his ministry. He knows the one thing he has to offer that no one else has - Christ. That knowledge of what he alone as a minister can give serves to fire his zeal and focus his ministry. His calling is to nourish his own faith and the faith of his people. Can you imagine this guy ever blessing a dog or a boat? He's not a fixer of people's problems. He's not a soother of their feelings. There are other people to do that. His calling as a minister is unique, and he will not be distracted.

As an Episcopalian, I identify with the young minister, and not just because I am a Reformed Episcopal presbyter. He's right seeing that life, people, and ministry are more messy and complicated than the old pastor's tunnel vision allows him to see. I have been with Jack feeling both anger and shame after being scolded and put in my place by those seeing themselves as wiser, holier, and more spiritual. And Eccles is right, there are times you feel a lot more at home in a drugstore or any place else than around Christians. And sometimes ice cream is the answer.