10 Signs you’re on a “spiritual” ego trip

I recently came across an interesting little article with a slightly rougher title than that of this blog post: http://highexistence.com/10-spiritual-bypassing-things-people-total-bullshit/

It seems to have been written from a sort of New Age perspective.  Much of its warnings, however, can be applied to Christians with only a little tweaking of emphasis.  The author, Nat Dollan, begins with the explanation:

No one ever told me spirituality could be a self-sabotaging ego trap. 

I spent about three years reading about spiritual teachings and incorporating them into my life before ever learning that spirituality has a dark side.

Naturally, I was taken aback. I felt kind of betrayed.

How could something that seemed so pure and good be harmful? 

The answer has to do with something that psychologists call spiritual bypassing. In the early 1980s, psychologist John Welwood coined the term “spiritual bypassing” to refer to the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid confronting uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs.

According to integral psychotherapist Robert Augustus Masters, spiritual bypassing causes us to withdraw from ourselves and others, to hide behind a kind of spiritual veil of metaphysical beliefs and practices. He says it “not only distances us from our pain and difficult personal issues, but also from our own
 authentic spirituality, stranding us in a metaphysical limbo, a zone of
 exaggerated gentleness, niceness, and superficiality.”

In short, there are a number of ways that we can appeal to “spirituality” an excuse to hide from reality.  So without further ado, here is my rewrite of his list, as applied to Christians.

#1 Participate in “spiritual” activities to make themselves feel superior to other people.

This is a universal challenge across the board.  Am I going to Bible Study because I want to look like a good Christian?  Am I raising my hands in prayer at church in order to look like I’m taking it more seriously?  Am I more interested in being seen at the prayer group than I am in actually participating?  Do I secretly keep track of attendance, and award “gold star stickers” to the ones with the highest score?

Not that we should live in constant fear of allowing our egos to lead us around – we all have moments like that.  The issue is when we actually pursue superiority, wanting to become part of “the elite.”  Jesus said that following him requires us to take up our Cross.  Jesus said that the greatest must be the most humble.  Indiana Jones’ father said “the penitent man will pass.”  All in all, we’ve got to be honest about our spiritual practices and learn to seek Christ in them, and not seek first the approval of our peers.

#2 Use “spirituality” as a justification for failing to take responsibility for their actions.

St. James wrote “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).  Sometimes people fall into a sort of fatalistic mindset and attribute everything, even their own sins, to “the will of God.”  Although we as Christians do hold a very high view of the providence of God, and his oversight over all things, people, and circumstances, the teaching of Scripture is clear that God is not the author of evil.  If you have sinned, in any way, that is your fault, not God’s.

Christians are taught to take responsibility for their actions.  When you realize your guilt, you must confess your sins (Leviticus 5:5, Psalms 32:5 and 38:18, James 5:16, 1 John 1:9).  That is true spirituality, not hiding your transgressions or shunting them off the blame on someone else, or worse, pretending they aren’t there at all!

#3 Adopt new hobbies, interests, and beliefs simply because they’re the latest “spiritual” fad.

This happens to all sorts of Christians.  When I was in seminary, I saw a lot of people check out the Anglican tradition – it was kind of a short-lived fad; the music was beautiful, the liturgy was deep, the celebration of Holy Communion filled in a gap that other churches had left sadly empty.  But after a while, whether it was certain other doctrines, or practices, many of those students moved along back to their own traditions.  In other places, I’ve seen popular books like The Shack and Jesus Calling garner a great deal of attention, and people eagerly gobble them up because they’re so popular and easy to read.  Even serious study groups can also fall victim to this faddish mentality, investing in a popular DVD teaching series with the matching guidebook for the leader and the workbook for everyone else.

This is not to say that all fads are bad.  But we must measure them wisely, by attaining  “to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:13-14).  Just because a song is a hit on the Christian Pop charts, or a book is a bestseller, doesn’t mean they’re any good.  Quality and popularity must be discerned, because they aren’t always the same.

#4 Judge others for expressing anger or other strong emotions, even when it’s necessary to do so.

 

Ephesians 4:26 says “Be angry and do not sin.”  Psalms 109 and 137, among others, express very serious anger.  Our Lord himself flipped tables and referred to false teachers as “hypocrites” and a “brood of vipers” from time to time.  Anger, and other strong emotions, are legitimate parts of being human, created in the image of God.  Yes, our passions and emotions are disordered and often lead us into sin.  But that does not mean we may criminalize strong emotions!

#5 Use “spirituality” as a justification for excessive drug use.

I am not aware of this being a common problem among Christians.  Yes, I know that many Christians are caught in throes of drug abuse, and that is a problem and a tragedy, but the purposeful use of drugs (or alcohol, or whatever else) to invoke a spiritual experience is more a hallmark of Pagan and Neo-Pagan spirituality than Christian, appearing only on the fringes of major world religions (as far as I know).

But there are other ways that Christians sometimes seek spiritual highs inappropriately: emotionalism.  A tradition has arisen, especially in the USA, of emphasizing the emotional response as the “truly spiritual” act of worship.  This has manifested in the practice of charismatic preaching, whipping the congregation into a frenzy of fear or excitement to evoke a response.  This has manifested in the practice of “managing” worship music to catch people up in a carefully-crafted roller coaster ride with the intent on helping them “feel the Spirit’s presence.”  Be it drugs, alcohol, or adrenaline, these are unwelcome tools in fostering Christian spirituality.

Instead, the Scriptures point us to the ministry of Word and Sacraments.  About the Bible, Jesus said “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:40-41, 47).  About the Sacraments, St. Paul said “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27), and “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).  It is in the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments that we find the objective bedrock of Christian spirituality, not in subjective emotional (or drug-induced) experiences.

#6 Overemphasize “positivity” in order to avoid looking at the problems in their lives and in the world.

This is a truly un-Christian intrusion into Christian spirituality.  We are sinners in need of a Savior; this is basic Christian teaching.  To ignore that reality is to pull the rug out from under all the rest of the doctrines of salvation.  If Jesus is not your Savior, he is useless to you (and ultimately, your enemy, because he knows your sins even if you do not acknowledge them).  There are many things in ourselves and in this world that can (and should) legitimately make us feel sad.  Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35) and lamented over impenitent Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37 & Luke 13:34).

Overemphasized positivity can also be a direct act of disobedience to the teaching of the Bible.  St. Peter told us “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12), and St. John took this even further: “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).  Yes, there is a place for positivity as we look ahead towards eternity, but that does not mean that everything in this life will turn out hunky-dory.

#7 Repress unpleasant emotions that don’t fit their “spiritual” self-narrative.

Umm, see #4.

But seriously, besides anger and sadness, there’s also fear and confusion and depression.  Again, there are many cases in which we poorly handle our emotions and we allow ourselves to fall into sin over them.  But there is also the question of emotional disorders of a more clinical nature – chemical imbalances in the brain, psychological disturbances, post traumatic stress disorder, and so forth.  None of these emotional situations are to be repressed.  Christ came to redeem us – soul, body, mind, and heart.  Some of our brokenness will find healing in this life, and the rest will find healing in the life to come.  Whether we experience healing or not, we are called to love the Lord our God with all facets of our being, and we cannot do so if we hide from them.

#8 Feel deep aversion and self-loathing when confronted with their shadow side.

This is an interesting one.  On one hand we’re called to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).  St. Paul says of his sins, “I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).  We should have a strong aversion and loathing for sin and wickedness.  On the other hand, we are also taught to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, etc.).  There is a form of self-love that we are develop, as Christians, which distinguishes between your “shadow side” (or sin nature) and your identity in Christ as a new creation.

We should not be surprised at our awful sinfulness; good Christian worship and teaching keeps us aware of this reality.  And we should be penitent and sorrowful and contrite concerning our sins.  But we don’t need to beat ourselves and put ourselves down unduly – we’re all in the same boat here, and we’ve all got the one Savior whose death on the Cross washes away the guilt of all who believe in his Name.

#9 Find themselves in bad situations due to excessive tolerance and a refusal to distinguish between people.

The Bible quote this reminds me of is when Jesus said “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  Yes, we are called to love our neighbor.  Yes, we are to be “innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19).  But we should also be wise.  Persecution and hatred against Christ and his people comes up naturally in the course of the proclamation of the Gospel, we don’t need to go out of our way to get ourselves in trouble!

Let’s look at Jesus’ famous teaching related to this in Matthew 5:38-42.

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

This is a picture of innocence, but it is not necessarily a picture of foolishness.  When you are forced into a bad situation, as Jesus’ teaching above describes, then a righteous reaction should be in love and is generally non-retaliatory.  In the examples listed here, the “extra mile” (and so forth) could actually get the original offender in more trouble!  Putting ourselves in danger for the sake of being in danger is foolish; it is not a more spiritual exercise to close your eyes while driving to “show your trust in Jesus.”  (That was a Facebook meme I saw a couple years ago… it was probably a joke.  But it wasn’t funny.)

#10 Want so badly for various “spiritual” practices to be correct that they disregard science entirely.

One may be tempted to bring in the Creation-related debates here, but let’s stay on topic with “spiritual practices,” rather than biblical interpretation.

Now, as Christians, we do believe in miracles; sometimes things happen that science cannot explain.  What is egotistical and unbiblical, however, is believing in miracles-on-demand.  How often do you hear things like “Pray/do this and Go will bless you” on the internet?  Have you ever heard someone talk about how you “unlock” God’s blessings in your life?  Have you ever heard someone “declare” a healing or something else “in the name of Jesus”?  These are all examples of mere men usurping God’s unique claim to working miracles.  God alone is supernatural (literally, “above nature”); it is egotistical and sinful, besides anti-scientific, to lay claim to the working of miracles through any human means, even through “faith.”  That isn’t being spiritual, that’s playing God.

Last Word

It’s worth pointing out at the end, now, that true Christian spirituality is biblical, sensible, healthy, and balanced.  To grab a word more often used in a New Age context, Christian spirituality is holistic.  It engages the mind, the heart, the body, and the soul.  Oftentimes false spirituality can be easily identified by its playing of some parts of the human being against another: pitting the heart against the mind, emphasizing the intellect and neglecting the emotion, discounting the significance of the body and physicality in worship, or any other combination of conflict within the human person.

Pride is a pervasive sin that easily infiltrates even the holiest of endeavors.  As we grow and develop our spiritual lives, we must always be vigilant against our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  He will take any and every opportunity to sabotage a good work, and so we must always watch out for his pernicious influence.  Developing healthy and whole spiritual lives is not something that is emphasized enough in many churches today, so this is an age where we have to work extra hard to discern the useful from the useless, the good from the bad, when it comes to authentic Christian spirituality.

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Article 11: Justification

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 11 states:

XI. Of the Justification of Man

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

This Article gives us the heart of the classic reformation teaching of justification by faith.  Very nearly quoting Romans 3:28-30, Article 11 simply sets before us the reality that we are not “accounted righteous before God” because of “our own works or deserving,” but because of “the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”  Merit is an important term, especially among teachers of the faith during the time of the Reformation.  Many had supposed that one could accrue divine merit through good works (especially fasting, almsgiving, and prayer), and that this merit contributed to one’s justification.  In short, if you do good works, you become a good person.

But such an idea is mistaken.  In Article 9, On Original Sin, we saw that “The doctrine of original sin teaches us that we are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners.”  Similarly, here, we find that we are not justified because we do good works, but rather, we do good works because we are justified.  As St. Paul put it, “by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:8-10).  In short, we are justified by God’s grace on account of our faith, by the merit of Christ, not of our own merit.  Good works is what we are justified and saved for, not by.  The next few Articles go on to address human works in various instances.  Be it sufficient, at this point, to say that no quality or quantity of human efforts can bring about justification from our sins.

This, Article 11 adds, is a doctrine “very full of comfort.”  Knowing that it is Christ’s merit that saves us, and not our own, liberates us from the endless rigmarole of trying to be better people, trying to make sure our good outweighs our evils, trying to earn our way into heaven.  Although it is humiliating to realize that our works can never merit our salvation, it is ultimately comforting that, despite ourselves, Christ has lifted us out of the mire of sin and death, and set our feet upon the solid ground of his Gospel of life eternal.

Finally, it should be noted that this Article makes reference to “the Homily of Justification.”  This is from “The Book of Homilies,” a collection of sermons published during the English Reformation. For a period of time, preachers were running rampant proclaiming their partisan positions in the pulpit, and so these sermons were written and ordered to be read in the churches to the exclusion of all others.  Thus, this book was, in its day, an official teaching document for the Church in England.  The full text of the Homily of Justification (also called the Sermon on the Salvation of Mankind) can be found online:

http://www.churchsociety.org/issues_new/doctrine/homilies/iss_doctrine_homilies_03.asp

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Learning from the Liturgy: Alleluia

Seasoned Anglicans, Episcopalians, Catholics, Orthodox, and other liturgical Christians are familiar with the practice of suppressing the word “alleluia” during the season of Lent, but oftentimes we forget just why we do this.

Halleluia is a Hebrew composite word: “hallelu” is the verb “praise” and “yah” is short for Yahweh, God’s name.  Together it is translated into English “praise the Lord!”  Because Latin doesn’t have the letter H in it, Western Christianity has tended toward the pronunciation “alleluia” instead.

The expression “Alleluia” is used throughout the year in various parts of the liturgy:

  • In some antiphons in Morning Prayer for special occasions
  • At the breaking (“fraction”) of the bread at Holy Communion
  • Several hymns and songs use the word alleluia

Alleluia is emphasized during Eastertide.  In addition to its usual appearances, it gains additional uses throughout that joyous season:

  • Added to the closing Grace/Blessing in Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Midday Prayer
  • Added three times to an antiphon in Compline
  • In the Opening Acclamation for the service of Holy Communion
  • Added to the Dismissal dialogue at the end of the Communion service
  • Many Easter hymns heavily feature the word alleluia

The Burial Service, too, is rife with Alleluia’s, evoking the Easter theme regardless of the time of year the funeral is being held.

Most famously, the word alleluia is suppressed during Lent (and in the traditional calendar, also during the Pre-Lent season).  This is no arbitrary act of the Word Police, but an intentional feature of the annual liturgy of the Church.  Alleluia, being a Hebrew term, automatically carries a special ethos – because it isn’t native to our own language(s), it has a quality to it that carries different weight than its perfectly accurate translation, “praise the Lord.”  By suppressing its use during the season of Lent, and using it in abundance during the season of Easter, we dramatize the liturgy in a subtle way: emphasizing the somberness of Lent and the joyfulness of Easter.

To highlight the radical shifts of its suppression before Lent and its restoration at the Easter Vigil, various traditions have arisen.  Some churches have a plaque that reads “alleluia” which they carry out of the church and bury in the yard on the last day before Lent.  During the Easter Vigil, when the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection is made, it is repeated three times, with multiple cries of “alleluia” accompanying it.  Visually and audibly, this simple word has been transformed into a subtle proclamation of the Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord!

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Article 10: Free Will

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 10 states:

X. Of Free-Will

The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.

Here in Article 10 we find, among other things, the basics of the doctrine of Total Depravity.  Total Depravity refers to the biblical teaching that everyone is “dead in their sin” (Ephesians 2:1), and asserts that depravity, or the sinful human condition impacts the total human being.  Our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls each are touched by sin’s effects.  The result of this condition is that even the human will is corrupt, to the point that we cannot choose to do good works, cannot place our faith in Christ, cannot worship God, on our own (cf. the second half of Romans 14:23).  If anything good is to come from us, we need help.

Thus another important teaching is described here: the doctrine of Prevenient Grace.  The word “prevenient” comes from Latin “pre venire” – to go before.  In the English language of the 16th century, when this Article was written, it was translated as “prevent.”  Thus, when Article 10 here says “we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us,” it means that God’s grace must work upon us before we can be able to do good, or come to saving faith in Christ.  This doctrine is also expressed in our liturgy.  One of the Collects prayed in the Daily Office puts it thus: “Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works, begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ Our Lord.”  This collect not only affirms the doctrine of Prevenient Grace but also adds to it the need for God’s continual grace, such that all our good must be “begun, continued, and ended” in God.

Sometimes the teachings of this Article may fall into some controversy.  Roman Catholic teaching defines Total Depravity differently, asserting that the human will, despite sin, retains the ability to choose what is good.  Additionally, the further step of claiming that the denial of human ability to do good and put faith in Christ is sometimes accused of being a strict Calvinist teaching.  But this is far from the truth.  Whatever one believes about the details of predestination, and other teachings related to our salvation, all the Protestant reformers agreed that the human will needs the prevenient grace of God in order to put saving faith in Christ.  Some Protestant sects today do teach that salvation is found in our “putting our faith in Jesus,” but this is a distortion of the biblical teachings that salvation is found solely in the atoning work of Christ.  God leads us to faith in him, either by his own election and choice (as teach the Calvinists) or by enabling us to put faith in him through his prevenient grace (as teach the Arminians).  In either case, salvation is through Christ alone, and human free will is not enough to cut through the deathly shell of human sinfulness without God’s intervention.

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Learning from the Liturgy: Overlapping Holy Days

The Christian calendar is peppered with holy days – special times set aside to celebrate key figures and events and doctrines that are foundational to the Christian faith and community.  Many of these holidays are affixed to certain dates: Christmas is always December 25th, St. Mary is always August 15th, and so on.  But other holy days are affixed to the liturgical calendar of weeks and seasons: Easter’s date is determined by the lunar calendar, and so it and many other holidays connected to it are on different dates from year to year.

Occasionally this results in a conflict.  The most common sort of conflict is when a fixed-date holiday lands on a Sunday.  Such an occurrence typically happens two or three times in a given year, and one such example of this is coming up in a few days: March 19th is both the Third Sunday in Lent and also Saint Joseph’s Day.  How do we handle such a convergence?

A sort of “hierarchy” of holidays exists for the very purpose of reconciling coinciding observances such as this.  During the seasons of Advent, Lent, and Easter, holy days that happen to land on Sundays are not to be observed on Sunday, but are either to be moved to the next free day (typically Monday) or skipped entirely that year.  So on this coming Sunday, we will not be celebrating St. Joseph’s Day, other than reading its Collect of the Day alongside the Collects for the Third Sunday in Lent.  The lessons and sermon and other prayers in the Communion Service will not further acknowledge St. Joseph or his feast day.

But the Daily Office is another matter – the readings appointed for Morning and Evening Prayer are less strictly governed.  As a result, the Daily Office readings for St. Joseph’s Day have been provided on the back of this newsletter along with the regular daily readings for Sunday.  It is up to the individual or community praying the Office that day to decide which sets of readings to follow.  Perhaps, since it’s a Sunday and a Saint’s Day, you may choose to “feast twice,” and read both sets of readings!

Later this year, St. Barnabas (June 11th) will also land on a Sunday, and also be displaced by a “higher ranking” Sunday (Trinity Sunday).  However, on August 6th, we’ll finally hit upon a holiday (The Transfiguration) that we can, and will, celebrate on Sunday itself, in place of the ordinary Trinitytide Sunday.

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Article 9: Original Sin

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 9 states:

IX. Of Original or Birth-sin

Original Sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in the Greek, “Phronema Sarkos”, which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh, is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.

This is our presentation of the doctrine of Original Sin.  Original Sin is a doctrine often neglected today in many churches, but remains largely uncontroversial among various Christian traditions and denominations.  A few variations of it do exist, but, in keeping with the majority of The 39 Articles, this Article sets out the doctrine at its basic level without chasing too far down any rabbit trails.

The problem with the human race is that we are sinners, that much is obvious.  The doctrine of original sin teaches us that we are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners.  As fallen people, we have what the Scriptures call a “sin nature,” or a “desire of the flesh” in opposition to the “desire of the spirit.”  It is this universal condition that causes us to sin.  To reverse this order, and say we are sinners because we sin, is to fall into the ancient of heresy of Pelagianism.  Pelagius was an early Christian teacher who overemphasized the goodness of creation, and eventually came to insist that people are sinners because they learned from the bad example of Adam.  If we would just follow the good example of Jesus, Pelagius said, we would not sin.  Ultimately this proved an impossible teaching, both in everyday life and in accord with the writings of Scripture – we sin because of “the fault and corruption of the Nature” within us, and we are “very far gone from original righteousness” such that our hearts are “inclined to evil” and our lesh “lusteth always contrary to the spirit.”  As the great penitential psalm puts it, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).

The result of this sin nature is that “in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.”  Even before we were old enough to sin, our hearts were evil and inclined against the Lord.  “The innocence of youth” is an expression we use to speak of how young children are unaware of so many of the world’s evils; but it is just an expression: even the smallest child is a sinner and a rebel against our Creator.

As Article 9 goes on to describe, this sin nature also remains a continuing problem even for “them that are regenerated” – baptized believers.  Even still, we have the phronema sarkos, which is a Greek phrase found in Romans 8:6, 7, and 27.  This can be translated as “lust of the flesh” or “desire of the flesh” or “will of the flesh,” or even “that which the flesh sets its eyes upon.”  Simply put, Christians still sin, and we still love sinning.  Article 9 here also makes a reference to Romans 8:1 when it points out that “there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized.”  This is Gospel – good news – and it’s both important and necessary that we understand this: even though we are sinners, and we still sin, the gift of union with Christ takes away our just and rightful condemnation.

There is one final practical observation that can be derived from the last sentence of Article 9.  It makes a point of emphasizing that even though we are no longer under the death sentence for our sins, we still have both the lust of the flesh and concupiscence.  Concupiscence is a term used differently by different Christian traditions; here it refers to the fallen desires of the human will, which are described here to have “of itself the nature of sin.”  Thus, even as Christians, forgiven and in God’s good graces, we must recognize that we continue to sin and besmirch the name of our Lord, and must continually repent of those sins.

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Article 8: The 3 Creeds

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 8 states:

VIII. Of the Three Creeds

The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’s Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.

Having established the authority of the Bible in Articles 6 and 7, Article 8 here takes us to another teaching authority in the Church’s toolkit: the three Creeds.  They are “thoroughly to be received and believed,” because they’re founded on the “most certain” foundation of the Bible.  Many Anglicans make use of the classic Protestant doctrine Sola Scriptura, the teaching that Only Scripture is infallibly authoritative over the Church.  Article 8 here works in tandem with that idea by asserting that although the Creeds are authoritative and binding for all Christian belief, they are so only because they’re derived from Scripture.  They are, in a sense, the Church’s best authoritative interpretive lens for summarizing the teachings of the Bible.

Each of these three creeds have their own special teaching value and corresponding use in the liturgy.

The Nicene Creed was written in 325 and expanded in 381, both at major ecumenical councils, by delegates representing the church worldwide at the time.  The primary theological issues being addressed in that Creed were doctrines related to the divinity, humanity, and personhood of Christ, and thus that is the longest section of the Nicene Creed.  It is traditionally said at the celebration of Holy Communion every Sunday and Major Feast Day.

The Athanasian Creed is a longer document (about two full pages of text), written in the late 400’s or early 500’s – a century after the death of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, in whose honor it was written.  This Creed’s primary focus is on the doctrine of the Trinity, carefully (and repetitively) spelling out the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit as well as the distinctions between the three Persons.  Because of its later origin, and other details, it is only used by Western Christians, and because of its length it is rarely used in worship services.  The original Book of Common Prayer, perhaps uniquely, called for its recitation at Morning Prayer on about 13 different Holy Days throughout the year.  Although this practice has largely disappeared in modern Anglicans, the Athanasian Creed does show up in the Communion service in a number of churches on Trinity Sunday.

For reasons unknown to me, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in 1801, edited Article 8 to omit the Athanasian Creed entirely; contributing to its demise in liturgical use and general lack of awareness of its existence and use.

The Apostles’ Creed, finally, was developed in the 1st and 2nd centuries largely as a confession of faith to be memorized and recited in the Service of Holy Baptism.  It is the shortest of the three creeds, and therefore the most commonly used for teaching, catechesis, and memorization.  It is traditionally said in the Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, as well as at Baptisms and Reaffirmations of Baptismal Vows.

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