Why I don’t dance in church

One of the things my wife and I like to watch together is the React Channel on YouTube, run by the Fine Brothers (FBE).  It features a regular cast of people of various ages who are lined up to react to various things – music, internet trends, foods, and so on.  One of the classic challenges is “Try Not To Sing Along / Dance”, which includes singing, lip syncing, swaying to the music, toe-tapping, and head-bobbing.  They then throw at these reactors a series of popular, famous, or otherwise catchy music to see how well they hold up.  I do pretty well resisting moving when there’s a lot of contemporary hip-hop, as even the beat just doesn’t seem that catchy to me.

But left to my own devices, I love listening to music.  And although I have no training (or even interest) in dancing, I do move to music quite a lot.  I’m not always good at memorizing lyrics but sometimes I mutter along when I know some of the words.  I bounce my kids in my arms, helping them feel and learn rhythm.  I sway and pretend to dance when no one is looking.  Or sometimes I pretend to conduct or to play an instrument… it depends upon the style of music and how into it I am.

matt talks music title

But when I’m at church, I hardly move at all besides looking up, from the words on the page to the cross and/or the altar, and back.  Does this mean I’m not into church music?  Does this make me a hypocrite?  Does “the devil get all the fun music” as some used to say?

No.  As a musician and could-have-been composer, I love music very much.  Both on my own and in collaboration with my wife I have arranged several pieces of music that we’ve gone on to sing in our church over the years.  There are several hymns that rank on my personal best-ever list of songs of all time.  So why don’t I want to dance, sway, clap my hands, or otherwise move about during the music in a worship service?

It’s not even a matter of fear of standing out – depending upon where you are, it’s the act of standing still that makes one stand out!

It’s because when I move with the music, I do so out of appreciation for the music itself.  If I’m clapping along it’s because I enjoy the beat; if I’m conducting or playing an air piano it’s because I wish I was among the performers; if I’m moving it’s because I’m caught up in the fun.  Church music, however, is about worshiping God.  It’s one thing to enjoy the music I’m hearing and singing in church – as I said, I’ve got several favorites.  But when I add the layer of motion and movement, I’m all too easily refocusing my attention from the heavenly Father, Son, and Holy Spirit over to the sounds we are producing here on earth.

I write this not to accuse those who do “dance” in church of idolatry, paying more attention to our own acts of worship than to the Lord whom we seek to worship.  There are biblical examples of people dancing to/for the Lord God.  Most notably there’s King David dancing for joy at the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem – his wife Michal was punished by God for scorning David’s enthusiasm.  So some people are gifted the ability to worship God with bodily expression.  I, however, am not one of them; my dancing is for the love of music.  So I write this for two reasons:

  1. Consider why you do what you do in church.  Some churches have a culture of hand-waving, clapping, swaying, or even dancing to worship music.  This is not intrinsically bad, but it does enter the dangerous territory of blasphemy.  We don’t want to fall into the hypocritcal situation of those to whom Jesus said “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mark 7:6).  For if you’re singing God’s praises, yet your actions betray your heart is actually occupied with the music itself, then you’re stepping into the sin of blasphemy and violating the commandment against using God’s name in vain.  Pay heed to your heart, and keep your mind attentive in worship, so you know why you are doing what you do.
  2. It is okay if you don’t want to dance in church.  Although dancing is attested in several biblical instances, it is never mandated.  It’s better to flee from temptation when one is weak.  If you, like me, know that you really love music, it’s probably best for your own spiritual health that you refrain from dancing during worship lest you distract yourself away from God.  It doesn’t matter what other people are doing; you must guard your own heart.

Because at the end of the day, worship is about God.  Liturgy is our coming together as one Body to be before the Father, embodying the Son, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  We all bring our personal identities and quirks to corporate worship, but we don’t let those individualities guide us.  The aim of worship, especially in the wisdom of the ancient liturgical tradition, is to set aside our differences and raise up a single voice to heaven despite physical or temporal location.  Most of us probably ought to save our dancing for events apart from worship.

Again, I write this not to be a killjoy, but in order that we would give due consideration to what we are doing, why we do it, and for Whom.

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“A Protestant Learns About Anglicanism”

Lately I’ve started seeing more and more suggested videos showing up on my YouTube home page from the Ten Minute Bible Hour, hosted by another guy named Matt who likes to learn and share what he learns.  A few of his videos are about visiting churches of traditions that are foreign to him and (most likely) the majority of his evangelical viewers.  His visit to an Anglican church was passed on to me for comment, so I thought I’d take a stab at it.  Be warned, though; the video is most of an hour long!

For most of the first 12 minutes, the focus of discussion is on Holy Communion.

  • The altar is the visible focal point of the room, reflecting the centrality of the sacrament, Holy Communion, in the worship of the church.  This is a common feature of Anglicanism today, but it should be noted that there were a good couple centuries or so (shortly after the Reformation) that the pulpit did take more prominence than the altar.
  • The terminology used in this video reflects a distinctly high church form of Anglicanism.  The prayer book tradition never really used the word “altar” but actually “holy table”.  The tabernacle, for the reserved sacrament, is a feature that was actually banned in the Reformation and has only returned to visible use in the past century or two.  The language of the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the elements of bread and wine is not universally agreed-upon; low church Anglicanism tends to emphasize a more Calvinistic view – symbolic participation – over object real presence in the sacrament.

Minutes 12-15 focus mostly on the Bible up front.

  • The Apocrypha or “Ecclesiastical Books” are included in the book, and are read in the service.  This is an historic feature of Anglicanism; the low church party has slowly pushed those books away from the public eye over the centuries since the Reformation, though they’ve never officially gone away.  Today, many (if not most) Anglicans are pretty unfamiliar with the Ecclesiastical Books as a result.
  • The KJV Bible is used there.  The translation of choice is usually paired with the edition of the Prayer Book used.  That particular parish (and the larger church body it’s a part of) uses the 1928 Prayer Book which utilizes the KJV Bible, so that’s naturally what they pair together.  Churches with a modern-style Prayer Book will typically use a modern-style translation, usually the NRSV or the ESV.

Worship & Architecture take up minutes 15-22.

  • The times for standing & sitting & kneeling are indeed directed in the Prayer Books.  The host of the video seemed a bit unfamiliar with it, but familiarity with traditional Protestantism will get you mostly on the same page as Anglican tradition on this front.
  • The Baptismal Font is historically by the entrance of the church, though many modern buildings may omit this feature.  Having an additional thing for holy water on the way in, however, is not common across the Anglican spectrum.
  • The presence of icons and candles was generally banned during the Reformation and have worked their way back in over the past century or two.  Initially these were signs of high church parishes, but today many (though not all) Anglicans embrace such visuals regardless of their churchmanship.
  • The “advocation of saints” is alluded to here in a way that would provoke quite a bit of argument between the high and low church parties of Anglicanism to this day.
  • The idea of architectural symbolism that teaches is true across the board.  How a church is built, used, and adorned speaks volumes of the theology of those who use it.

Anglicanism in General, minutes 22-40:

  • This parish priests talks about English Catholicism, emphasizing continuity to Roman Britain, and avoids applying the word Protestant to himself.  Historically, Anglicans frequently referred to themselves as Catholic, true, but also Protestant and Reformed.  “Reformed Catholicism” is a term perhaps more commonly acceptable across the spectrum of Anglican expression.  Nevertheless he does admit that the Reformation in 1549, the break with Rome, “was inevitable”.  The Roman doctrines of Purgatory and Indulgences were among the greatest offenders of that particular time.
  • He explains that the English Reformers emphasized the pre-1054-schism Church.  This is true of most of the Protestant Reformers, not just in England, though we do usually affirm that our reformers were more attentive to the Early Church than most of the continental reformers were.
  • His group is no longer in communion with Canterbury.  This is true for most Bible-believing Anglicans in this country, these days.  The church visited in this video is part of the Anglican Province of Christ the King, which is one of the more distinctly high church groups that left the Episcopal Church in the late 1970’s.
  • His explanation of Apostolic Succession (emphasizing the collegiality of bishops, citing the commission in John 20) is pretty standard across the board for Anglicans, though we do have a longstanding debate over whether that succession is necessary or simply beneficial.
  • They talk about Confession for the forgiveness of sins, noting that Anglicans primarily make confession within a worship service rather than in private, though the private option does exist.
  • They talk soteriology (salvation), “we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved.”  This is not particularly different from the way Lutherans talk about salvation either; it stands apart mainly just from the way evangelicalism gets popularly reduced.
  • When it comes to the centrality of the Cross & Resurrection, they are agreed with Protestants, and this is certainly true in all forms of historic Anglicanism.
  • He insists that they are Catholic but not Roman: meaning no papacy, indulgences, purgatory, or marian dogmas.  This is consistent with how the English Reformers described themselves too.

They got back to the subject of the Bible briefly in minutes 40-41.

  • It’s described as God’s self-revelation through history, pointing to Christ the true Word.  He says it’s unchanging, and that it sets the standard of truth.  This is in line with Protestants and Catholics alike, as far as I know.
  • He goes on to say that the Bible comes from the Church, so the Church is the interpretive guide.  While the latter is true to basic Anglican doctrine, the specific idea that the Church produced the Bible is not how all Anglicans describe it.  Many will agree with the standard evangelical approach to say that the Church simply affirmed the New Testament canon, not chose it as such.

The Creeds were discussed, in minutes 42-44.

  • We indeed hold to three Creeds, which summarize the faith found in the holy scriptures, as he said.  American Episcopalianism, back in 1801, tossed out the Athanasian Creed (I don’t know why), but most of us outside the Episcopal Church have brought it back.
  • He also references seven ecumenical councils, where “officially” only the first four are cited as foundational for the Early Church.  The preference to look to the seven is a feature of high church Anglicanism.

They talk about the Book of Common Prayer for a surprisingly short time, 45-47.

  • He explains that Thomas Cranmer translated & reformed Roman liturgy into English, rightly noting the balance between continuity from pre-existing tradition and the fresh arranging of Scripture for the purpose of worship.
  • He describes the Prayer Book as “The Bible set to prayer“, similar to how my church body (the ACNA) has tag-lined our new Prayer Book: “The Bible arranged for worship.”  It is true, indeed, that Prayer Book liturgy is comprised of an enormous proportion of biblical quote and paraphrase.
  • Their church uses the 1928 Prayer Book, and he emphasizes its beauty, like he did with the KJV Bible.  He didn’t get into the major arguments that have existed regarding the 1979 Prayer Book that his church body rejected, which is just as well, though if you want to learn about current American Anglicanism in general, that is an issue that you’ll have to confront sooner rather than later.

They finish with the question of the experience of visiting this church, 48-49.

  • The beauty of experiencing the worship, again seems to be his emphasis.  Come and be immersed in our tradition, our liturgy, our way of worship, and let it speak to your heart.  This appeal to beauty (and “authenticity” as the hipsters among us like to say) is a common appeal among many stripes of Anglicans.  He did note that there would be a leaflet to help a newcomer follow the order of service and tell them what they’re doing, but the implication was that a first-time visitor unfamiliar with liturgical worship would inevitably feel a bit out of place.  (To be fair and turn the tables, someone used to liturgical worship would feel just as out of place and lost in a charismatic worship experience.)

On the whole, I’ve got to say that this video introduces high church Anglicanism, but says nothing about the low church form of our tradition.  We’ve always had a duality, some pulling toward the high/traditionalist/catholic end, and others pulling the low/reforming/protestant end.  The chasm between these two ‘parties’ is wider today than it ever was before, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) both groups tend to preserve different elements of historic Anglicanism.  So if you want to understand Anglicanism as historically established and practiced, you need to look at both the high and low church expressions of it today, and then work inwards and backwards to see where they coalesce.

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Fellowship & Joy

The book of the Bible known as 1 John is normally described as the 1st Epistle of St. John, but it actually reads much more like an address or a sermon than an actual letter.  The prologue, in particular, contributes to this homiletical tone.  Indeed, the first four verses of this book very definitely function as a commentary on the prologue to John’s Gospel.  You need to be familiar with that great text “in the beginning was the Word…” in order to understand what John’s doing at the beginning of this epistle, or homily.  Verses 1-3 form a single sentence in Greek, echoing the style and content of John 1:1-18.  The theme of glory is not pursued here, but instead it stays focused on the word-made-flesh, the eternal life in Christ, and fellowship (union) with God.  I’ll get back to that in just a minute.

Sticking with the analysis of the text for a moment, normal sentence structure in English is S-V-O, but this is O-SV (the subject & main verb being “we proclaim” in verse 3).  Attention, thus, is focused heavily upon the object of the apostolic proclamation rather than the act of proclaiming it.  John wants us to meditate on Christ, with him, especially the true humanity of Jesus.  As can be gleaned from later in this epistle, there was already a heretical sect that denied that Jesus had come in the flesh, the divine becoming truly man.  From the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel, Jesus has been heard from, seen, and even touched, revealing or manifesting the Gospel of salvation.  As surely as Jesus walked this earth, died, and rose again, so is the certainty of the truth of the apostles’ preaching.

The purpose of this proclamation is two-fold in this prologue: that we might have fellowship, and that the apostles’ joy may be complete (or full).  The joy is simple: how beautiful are the feet of those who carry good news!  The angels rejoice over the repentance of but one sinner!  The proclamation of God is gospel – good news.  It is a joy to speak of Christ, especially to proclaim him to others who may then turn to him and live.

It is the fellowship that takes a little more attention to understand.  There are many kinds of fellowship – that of a club or organization of acquaintances, people who share a common interest or activity; that of a group of close friends who share common ideals or goals or purposes; that of a family who share their very lives with one another; and of course there is fellowship with God wherein we share not only this life, but eternal life together.  It is this highest fellowship, unsurprisingly, that John writes of here.  But what I should especially like to point out is the order of fellowship as he describes it.  First that you, the hearers or readers, would have fellowship us – John and the other apostles – and second that our fellowship is with the Father and the Son.  Typically today we tend to speak of fellowship or communion with God first, and church membership second; but John gives it to us the other way ‘round.  We have fellowship with the apostles, and thereby have fellowship with God.

This highlights the absolute necessity of local church membership, but also goes beyond it.  When John writes “that you too may have fellowship with us” he is connecting the dots from the individual members of local congregations to himself and the other apostles.  The fellowship of the Church is not just about belonging to a congregation, it’s about belonging to the apostles, the apostolic faith, the catholic church.  This is critical, which is why it’s found in our creeds – we believe in “the holy catholic church, the communion of saints…”  Fidelity to the local church, and responsible obedience to our pastors is well and good, but John’s insight takes us further than that – an independent church just won’t do.  This also bears out later in the epistle – there are people who have departed from the congregation and apparently started their own fellowship or sect.  Perhaps these are the same people who were denying the humanity of Jesus, too.

This verse has been one of my quiet favorite verses in the Bible for several years.  It captures, in beautiful and gospel-driven terms, the reason I moved from non-denominationalism into the Anglican tradition, where catholic Christianity can be affirmed.  We do not just seek fellowship with God as individuals and call it sufficient, we do not just seek fellowship with a local congregation and call it sufficient, but we seek fellowship with the communion of saints, the Church built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone.

In this fellowship, on that foundation, with the proclamation of the word of life, truly, our joy may be complete.

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Eternal Safety in Christ our Good Shepherd

an exposition of Revelation 7:9-17
by the Rev. Matthew Brench
at Grace Anglican Church
upon 12 May 2019 (Easter IV)

Introduction

Today is nicknamed ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’.  Traditionally the second Sunday after Easter and in modern calendars moved down a week later, this is when we hear, from the Gospel of St. John, some part of one of Jesus’ most beloved teachings about himself: “I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.”  And this is not an isolated metaphor; the Bible is generously sprinkled with shepherd imagery for God’s ministers and for God himself.  One of the best-loved Psalms famously begins “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not [be in] want.”  This prominent image throughout the Bible gives us a rich, homely, and believable set of ideas that we can latch onto as we seek to understand God.

As a shepherd, specifically a good shepherd, God guides us, feeds us, and protects us.  He leadeth me beside still waters, he spreads a table for me, and he does so in the presence of my enemies.  We can walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear, his rod comforts us because with it he can beat down the wolves, his staff comforts us because with it he can pull us out of danger if we stray too far away.  And Jesus goes so far as to say that, as the good shepherd, he is not only known to his sheep, but he himself loves us: he will lay down his life in order to guide us, feed us, and protect us.

Although we are continuing our exploration through the book of Revelation this morning, this Good Shepherd theme will still be with us.  For as we look through the main of chapter 7 today, we find that God indeed guides, feeds, and protects his people.

 After this I looked… (v9)

“After this” refers to the first 8 verses in which four angels prevent further judgment being carried out against the earth until the saints of God have been “sealed.”  It has become popular in the past century and a half to interpret this as a future event – a literal 144,000 Jewish people will receive a special mark on their foreheads from God to distinguish them from the sinful world around them and protect them from the judgments that God is about to pour out.  However, more historic interpretation offers the reminder that all Christians are sealed by Christ in the New Covenant.  Holy Baptism is, in particular, where this sealing is described as taking place, but the idea of being sealed for God or sealed by God is larger than just the sacrament itself, but a matter of belonging to God, being a member of the Body of Christ, being a sheep in Christ’s flock.

 Behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!”  And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.”  (v9-12)

Like what we heard last week in chapter 5, the heavenly throne room of God is a place of constant worship.  The 24 elders and four living creatures are here again, along with all the angels and saints, crying out in worship together.  We’ve even sung about this today: “Let saints on earth in concert sing with those whose work is done; for all the servants of our King in heaven and earth are one.”  All this is along the same lines as what we heard last time.

What’s new and different about this part of John’s vision, in chapter 7, is the “great multitude which no man could number.”  This cloud of witnesses is drawn from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue.  You look around the room in a local church and you will often see a lot of people from the same country, same region, same ethnicity, and language.  There are churches that draw lots of young adults together but are conspicuously absent of elders.  There are churches that draw together an immigrant community where they all worship in their mother-tongue.  There are churches that are predominantly Hispanic, or black, or white.  These are not inherently bad things; most people naturally flock to those who are like themselves; but there are challenges that come with this affinity-based congregations.

What would you do if someone of a different color or ethnicity visited our church?  How would we handle someone who doesn’t understand English very well?  It can be difficult to remember that in heaven we will be a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic congregation.  If we don’t experience diversity on earth, we run the risk of forgetting the diversity in heaven.  What’s worse, sometimes people look at their affinity-based congregations and begin to assume that this is the way it’s supposed to be.  The church must be segregated by language, by race, by nationality.  Once homogeneity is achieved, some might fall into new and terrible temptations: assuming that the expression of Christianity championed by their nationality, their ethnicity, their race, is better than all others.  These nationalistic or ethno-centric poisons can come up anywhere, and we can see this running rampant in several corners of American Christianity today, among both conservatives and liberals.

These visions of heaven help correct us of our worldly blinders.  Not everyone in heaven will speak the Queen’s English.  Not everyone in heaven will look Caucasian.  Not everyone in heaven will look your age, or my age.  The innumerable saints in heaven will be representative of all the peoples of the earth; and each of them will be clothed in the same white garments – the righteousness of our one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  That is the point; whoever we are, we all proclaim Christ.

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?”  I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence.  They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  (v13-19)

In classic apocalyptic style, a heavenly figure helps John to understand the vision he’s having.  These innumerable saints in heaven are given further explanation.  They have gone through “the great tribulation.”  Some interpreters suggest that there will be a particular “great tribulation” at the end of history, leading up to the day Jesus returns.  A number of modern interpreters have taken this idea even farther, identified it as being seven years long, and lining up all sorts of judgment events throughout that period, arguing over if the Rapture will occur before, during, or after this tribulation.  Most of this debate is pure rubbish.  The Rapture, as commonly expressed, is the sudden removal of the entire Church from the world such that God can conclude his covenant with the Jews.  This is utterly non-biblical, twisting all sorts of key scriptural teachings.

Now, there may well be an especially nasty time of tribulation in the final stretch before Jesus returns, but that is not the clear teaching of the book of Revelation, nor is it the point of this passage.  (Indeed, the saints who’ve passed through this “great tribulation” are innumerable… if this was referring to a particular tribulation at the end of time, the numbers would surely be countable, like the 144,000 earlier in this chapter!)  It is far more important to recognize that tribulation – both persecution of Christians from worldly powers as well as each of our internal struggles against sin – is continuous throughout history.  When St. John wrote down this vision, government-sponsored persecution was just getting started, and would get worse for about a century before things began to improve again.  Since then, Christians have struggled against the world, the flesh, and the devil in many different ways and to many different degrees all over the world.

Anyway, the saints in heaven have gone through the tribulation, in whatever form that took, and now wear white robes. Contrary to usual wisdom concerning laundry, these robes are white because they’ve been washed with blood.  The bloodstain of Jesus makes us perfectly clean.  As we say at the altar, “The Blood of Christ: the cup of salvation.”  Therefore, the elder explains to John, are they before the throne of God and serve him day and night within his temple.  Salvation leads to worship.  And in that place of salvation and worship, we see all sorts of Old Testament prophecies fulfilled: They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  These images, especially from the book of Isaiah, communicate to us the peace and prosperity and perfection that we will enjoy in the risen and glorified life to come.

Conclusion

To summarize, this vision teaches us three things about Christians and Christianity.

  1. We are Sealed & Glorified in Christ. God promises himself to all who are committed to him, and we receive that as a seal upon our foreheads, something we can believe in and hope upon.  As we persevere the tribulations of life, we move ever-closer to the life of eternal glory with God.
  2. Salvation yields worship. Both saints on earth and in heaven proclaim the name of the Lord Jesus and extoll his greatness. Our knowledge of his great work of atonement points us to share in his eucharistic feast, giving thanks with hearts made clean by his saving blood.
  3. In heaven we see the final Fulfillment of Prophecy. The peace and prosperity, the health and wealth, that especially the Old Testament Prophets foretold concerning God’s faithful people, do not find their complete realization in this life, but in the life to come.  Only with sin washed away, and life’s tribulations ended, with the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead, will we see the ever-lasting fruit of redemption.

Until then, and on the way there, we know Jesus as our Good Shepherd.  He is guiding us to that heavenly life, feeding us and protecting us every step of the way there.  There is always tribulation to undergo, in some form or another.  There is always the need for being washed in the blood of the lamb to become white as snow.  But we are never alone in this wander through the wilderness of the world: as Moses led the Israelites across the sea and through the desert, so Jesus leads us across the waters of baptism and through this earthly life.  He guides us through his under-shepherds or pastors; he feeds us with manna from above in the Sacrament of Holy Communion; he protects us with the two-edged sword of God’s Word.  Let us attend to these great provisions and promises of God, let us give thanks to our redeemer, let us hear and follow our Good Shepherd.  Amen.

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Introduction to the Ecclesiastical Books

The Apocrypha, or Deuterocanon, also known as the Ecclesiastical Books, is a selection of books that are omitted from modern Protestant Bibles, and the source of a great deal of confusion and contention when Christians of different stripes compare notes.

I’ve written on these books of the Bible a few times before.  Most notably is my most recent summary, though there’s also a brief treatment of them in my commentary of Article 6 (from the Anglican 39 Articles) and an older post that dealt with some of the details in Reformation history.

But now that I’m experimenting with the making of videos, I’ve chosen this subject as one to re-visit.  If you’ve already read the blog posts I just linked to, then you’re probably familiar with most of the content of this video, all that’s really new is a brief summary of each book.

Index:

0:00 – Debate: Deuterocanon versus Apocrypha

3:13 – Balance: The Ecclesiastical Books

6:10 – How do we refer to them?

9:40 – What are the actual writings?

  • (11:09) 1 & 2 Esdras
  • (14:04) Tobit & Judith
  • (15:11) Additions to Esther
  • (16:30) Wisdom & Sirach
  • (17:27) Baruch & Epistle of Jeremiah
  • (18:26) Additions to Daniel
  • (20:24) Prayer of Manasseh
  • (21:05) 1 & 2 Maccabees

23:00 – When & How we use them

31:00 – On Establishing Doctrine & final word: Fear Not!

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From the Altar to the Foot Basin

A Maundy Thursday homily, on Luke 22:14-30

One of the classic challenges of having four Gospel books is the fact that they don’t always have their chronology lined up with each other.  How did Jesus identify his traitor during the Last Supper?  At one point in the evening did Judas leave?  What teachings and prayers did Jesus give in that upper room, and what did he save for outside in the Garden of Gethsemane?  Some of it we can piece together and harmonize, and some of it we can not.  For, as it is, the Gospel writers were mostly not aiming to give us a minute-by-minute story of Jesus, but the whole big picture, the good news, of who he is and what he’s done.

Luke’s Take on the teaching of “Who Is The Greatest”

In Luke’s Gospel book, in the upper room right on the heels of the Last Supper, we read of the disciples falling into a dispute – who is to be the greatest?  Matthew and Mark place the same story earlier in their narratives, before the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  Our job is not to slice through the writings of Scripture with an exacto knife to figure out which authors mucked it up and which one is right; our job is to receive the writings of all four, and learn from them.  This story of the dispute among the disciples over who would be the greatest has a different context and connotation in Luke’s Gospel compared to Matthew and Mark, and thus we learn something different from Luke’s presentation than from the other two.

In his words of institution, where Jesus transforms the Old Covenant Passover into the New Covenant Communion, he speaks of the Kingdom of God – that after a betrayal, he will eat this meal anew with them in the Kingdom of God.  In light of that promise of fellowship in the long-awaited Messianic Kingdom, the disciples in their earthly thinking fall into question of rank.  Who will comprise the Inner Court around King Jesus?  What will their ranks and positions and titles be?  Jesus will have none of that.  He tells them that they’re thinking like Gentiles, and that instead they are to disregard such hollow concepts of stature.  The young may be as venerable as the old, the leader may be a servant.  He cites himself as an inarguable example in v27, “I am among you as the one who serves.”  If you line this up with what Jesus did at the Supper in John 13 – washing the feet of his disciples – then this statement is made all the more vivid and tangible to them.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

But then he does not leave them with bare rebuke, but he lifts them up as well. “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom”.  Here he returns to the Passover and Holy Communion image of eating and drinking in God’s Kingdom.  The people of God in the Old Covenant had the privilege of household fellowship with God in eating the Passover together; now with this New Covenant in Christ’s blood, God’s people will have the privilege of household fellowship with God in eating the Holy Communion together.  The Messianic Kingdom will become visible, real, present, in the sacred ritual meal of the Lord’s Supper.  “Do this in remembrance of me” finds a clearer meaning now: this will not be a mere memorial of things past, but an eating and drinking that brings into the present the reality of the past.  When you partake of the bread and wine of Holy Communion, you partake of the body and blood of Christ that saves us all.  For this brief glorious moment, you are in heaven.

Jesus also tells them that they will “sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”  This promise was directed to them more specifically: he chose twelve disciples on purpose.  Instead of twelve clans or tribes of ethnic Israel, the Church will now be founded by twelve apostles.  What about Judas, one might ask?  He defected and betrayed them leaving only eleven.  True, but the eleven understood Jesus well enough to make sure to replace Judas with a new twelfth apostle – Matthias – before the Day of Pentecost arrived and the Church was formally birthed.

Yet, even though we recognize the Apostles as the foundation of the Church, along with the Old Testament Prophets, and Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, there is a sense in which we all are seated with Christ at the right hand of the Father.  As St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “God raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (2:6-7).  This sharing of his Kingdom with all of us a grace, a kindness, a gift.  King Jesus doesn’t have to share his power, rule, and authority; he is the rightful heir of all creation!  But he has come among us as one who serves; he who is the greatest has offered himself as if the least.

Before Penitence and Joy, be loved.

Before any of us can proceed to Good Friday, the Cross, the death of Jesus, much less his burial, descent, and resurrection, we have to understand this Maundy Thursday reality.  ‘A new command I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you.’  Jesus’ love is completely self-giving to completely unworthy recipients.  We must realize this sheer condescension, this utter self-abandonment for our sakes, in order to arrive at the Cross with any fruitful devotion tomorrow.

As we move through the liturgy tonight, we will arrive at the Stripping of the Altar.  This will be a two-fold moment; I will be removing the beauty and elegance of our worship space and you will be reading Psalm 22.  Both the symbolic action and the verbal speech point to the same reality: that the abandonment of Jesus is an ugly thing.  He has come among us as one who serves, he has taught and shown us love beyond measure, and the treatment he receives for it is unspeakably horrific.  Right now let it be remembered just how much Christ has loved each of us.  And after partaking of the Eucharist, the thanks-giving of Holy Communion, let it be remembered how quickly and easily each of us turn our back on him.  Then, and only then, will you be ready to stand at the foot of the Cross and mourn the death of our Lord.  Then will you be ready to hold vigil, to wait at his tomb, and celebrate with joy the Paschal mystery, the resurrection.

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Who takes the fall

meditations on Isaiah 52:13-53:12, my homily for Palm Sunday, 2019
Scripture quotes in bold are my own paraphrases, combining four different translations.

13 Behold, my servant will act with wisdom; he will be lifted up and exalted.

The Servant of the Lord is Jesus.  In his divine wisdom he will go to the Cross – be lifted up – and yet in that crucifixion he will be exalted. We who have come to know just what he did there have learned to glory in the Cross of Christ!

14 Many were astonished at the sight: his appearance was horrifyingly marred beyond human semblance.

On the Cross he faced a gruesome and dehumanizing death.  The initial reaction for any observer is horror.

15 He shall sprinkle [purify] many nations; kings shall be shocked into silence as they see what was unannounced, and understand what was not foretold to them.

In contrast to the dehumanizing shock of Christ’s death on the Cross to the immediate observers, the news of it will send shockwaves around the world.  Those who never received the Old Covenant, or even heard of the Law of Moses, will be impacted by this Gospel.

1 Who has believed our report, and to whom has God’s power been revealed?

This is sort of an expression of disbelief at the spread of the Gospel – who would believe that such a terrible death would have such a religious impact across the globe?  The unlikelihood of this Gospel is explored further:

2 For he grew up before God like a young plant rooted in dry ground; he had no majestic appearance or beauty that should garner our attention.

Jesus had an unimpressive childhood: living as a refugee in his early years, raised by a carpenter in Nowhereville, Galilee, without any sign of royal majesty.

3 He was despised and rejected by men, he lived a life of sorrow and grief; he was the sort people turn their face away from; he was despised, and people deemed him insignificant.

Jesus’ adulthood was hardly any more attractive than his childhood.  Once he began his ministry he had no home, no base of operations, no center of power, and his followers had a high turnover rate.  Despite his miracles and great teachings, the general public ignored him like he was just another crazy religious nut on the street corner.

4 But actually he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows, even though we considered him stricken and smitten by God in his affliction.

Despite his apparent insignificance, Jesus’ death on the Cross was of the greatest significance.  There, he took upon himself the full scope of human pain, and he suffered for us.

5 He was wounded because of our transgressions; he was crushed because of our sins.  Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and because of his wounds we are healed.

It was on account of our sinfulness and disobedience to God that Jesus died.  In identifying with our own sin-sickness, Jesus brought peace to the endless war between man and God.  We can now find healing because of his wounds.

6 All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we’ve all turned to our own ways.  And the Lord delivered him over for our sins.

Everybody sins, we all have “done what is right in our own eyes.”  So it is on account of everyone’s iniquity that Jesus went to the Cross.

7 He was oppressed and he was afflicted, but he did not open his mouth [to object].  He was led as a lamb to the slaughter.  Like a sheep silent [helpless] before the shearer, he did not open his mouth.

Sheep can be noisy, and they’re big enough to knock you over if they try; but once you wrangle one over onto its back or its bum, it’s surprisingly helpless and easy to control.  A little lamb will happily follow its shepherd to the slaughterhouse out of sheer ignorance of the situation.  Jesus behaved and responded in much the same way: he refused to defend himself in trial, and went to the Cross without putting up a fight.

8 He was taken away in oppression and judgment.  None considered that he was cut off from the land of the living, much less that he was stricken for the transgression of my people.

The earthly fate of Jesus looked unremarkable – it was a crucifixion like any other.  Nobody really understood what was going on, what the true divine judgment was, that Jesus was dying for the sin of the world.  Instead, it appeared a simple matter of Roman justice, or injustice.

9 They prepared his grave with the wicked, but with a rich man in his death [was he lain], for he had done no violence, neither was there any deceit in his mouth.

Crucified alongside two criminals, Jesus would have been buried with them.  But in God’s appointment an intervention took place and Jesus was lain the tomb of a rich man by people who understood that he was an innocent man who only spoke the truth.

10 It was the will of the Lord to crush him, and put him to grief.  And once his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, his days shall be prolonged, and the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

Some people hear the beginning of this verse and gawk – how could God be so cruel as to want to crush and grieve his own Son?  It must first be remembered that Jesus has already been described to have gone to his death willingly, without a fight.  Then added here is the purpose for the Father and the Son to choose this death: it is a sin offering that will bring about new life, a new age, and accomplish God’s plan for the redemption of the world!

11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge the righteous servant make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

The motif of acting in wisdom, where this text began, returns here in modified form.  In that intentional death on the Cross, Jesus will see the fruit of his labor; indeed, he already knew that “when the Son of Man is lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself.”  He would not literally see the nations falling in repentance while he was physically on the Cross, but in his divine knowledge Jesus knew what he was doing and what would result.  Like an exchange of coats, he took our sins upon himself, and handed us his perfect righteousness.

12 Therefore I will assign him a portion with the many, and he will divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Jesus’ death upon the Cross, finally, can be described as a victory.  He wins righteousness for others, and will dwell with his redeemed people forever!  He could only have done this – have saved us – by pouring himself out in death and being numbered among the sinners.  Their sins, and the punishment for those sins, Jesus bore himself, and to this day he continues to make intercession for sinners.  He stands before the judgment throne of the Father wearing the rags of our sins, interceding, standing between him and us, such that our due punishment of eternal death may never reach us.

When we, the human race, fell into sin and death, God saw to it, in the person of Jesus Christ, that he should take the fall for us.  His righteousness, his perfection, his holiness, is greater than all our sin together, and out of love he stepped down from on high to bring us back to life.  We broke the covenant, we violated the law, we cheated on our divine husband, yet he took the blame upon himself to mend his creation and win and woo us back.  Thanks be to God.

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