Love like you’re married to Christ

This devotional is for the feast of St. Mary Magdalene.  It is part of a recording of the Evening Prayer, which you will find re-blogged below.

As this is a major feast day it’s good to take a moment to reflect on the lessons and reflect on this day, this commemoration of St. Mary Magdalene.

It has to be admitted up front that the scripture readings in our daily lectionary are just part of the continuous readings; they’re not appointed (at least in Evening Prayer) for this feast specifically. Nevertheless there is the occasional convenient coincidence, shall we say.

We have in Ezra 10 this very “exciting” story basically of a case of Divorce For The Glory Of God: all of these returning exiles in Jerusalem who’ve married foreign women and have to put them away, and have to live a new life, committed to God, even in their marriage and family life. Certainly [this is] a very extraordinary case, and not one we should lightly or unadvisedly repeat, but nevertheless it’s there. And it has the long list of names, which is option in the lectionary – you can skip them but I read them all, however imperfectly. But it’s important sometimes to read these names; it adds gravity, it adds reality to these stories. This is not just some random collection of people, these are real people who had to make this very difficult choice. So it’s a list that adds gravity, adds reality, and adds shame! This is a list of sinners, yet, of people who repented, so it’s not just a list of shame, it’s a list of grace.

So instead they’re called to faithful marriages within the people of God, and that is part of their existence in Old Covenant, Old Testament, Israel. Certainly, this shows a call to marriage-like faithfulness to God, something that we in the New Covenant as Christians are very much called to have – to be the Bride of Christ. Indeed, this was certainly not planned [by me], but the anthem we just sang also speaks of the same thing:

The dearest idol I have known
Whate’er that may be
Help me to tear it from my throne
And worship only thee.
So shall my walk be close with God…

Even there: divorce for the glory of God, taking away the idols, separating ourselves from our worldly affections.

This relates in an interesting little way to Mary Magdalene. She exhibited a love much like that. She was healed from many infirmities; she was delivered from seven demons, the scriptures say elsewhere; Jesus also made the comment that he or she who is forgiven much, loves much; and Mary Magdalene certainly loved Jesus. She had an affection that was very visible, especially in John 20, the most extant story of her interaction with him, when Jesus sent her to report to the Apostles.

So that real emotion-supported (not emotion-based alone) love, affection, committment to Christ – Mary Magdalene certainly exhibited that. And whatever kind of person she was before her calling – the old traditional assumption was that she was a prostitute, although the Scriptures don’t tell us that for sure – whatever she was, whoever she was before she came to know Christ’s forgiving power and love, she came into a place of wonderful affection for our Lord Jesus Christ: one that we would do well to imitate and learn from; one that sets aside the idols, the unholy marriages that we make in the course of life, and we replace that with the perfect Bridegroom, Jesus our Lord.

Thanks be to God.

The Saint Aelfric Customary

We’ve got a daily hymnody plan available, an order for using the Occasional Prayers, and some insight on how to sing Simplified Anglican Chant.  Let’s put it all together and see what Evening Prayer can be like. We did this with Morning Prayer last week, but now let’s add some chanting to spruce up this feast day commemorating St. Mary Magdalene.  I should warn you that there are a couple of stumblings, hesitations, and even mistakes as I read, pray, and sing.  That’s life, that’s reality.  I’m not here to perform for anyone, and I just want to encourage you to pray and sing, yourself, too.  Anyway, grab your 2019 Prayer Book, ESV Bible, and 2017 Hymnal, and listen and pray along!

Order of service (so you can get your books ready)…

  1. Opening Sentence (BCP 41)
  2. Confession *
  3. Invitatory Dialogue with Hymn #444 instead of the Phos hilaron **

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Catholic Christianity in a Nutshell

This video post is a sort of combination of two similar blog posts from a while back.


00:00 Introduction
01:28 Definitions of ‘catholic’
04:08 Jesus at the center of our doctrine
09:23 Jesus at the center of our worship
13:38 Jesus at the center of our community
20:52 Contrast with non-catholic Christianity
26:14 Concluding thoughts
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The Sending of the Seventy: a specific example of a broad mission

This was my homily on Luke 10:1-20 at Grace Anglican Church on 7 July 2019.

The sending of the seventy, or seventy-two (depending upon which New Testament manuscript tradition you go with), is one of the classic stories in the gospels of apostolic mission and evangelism.  It is frequently cited as the example par excellence of how the church “ought to” grow.  Send people out two by two, go into the towns and villages, preach the Gospel, stay in one place (with a “person of peace”, someone who heeds your message) and invest in those who listen rather than showing the instability of one who jumps haphazard from place to place.  Signs and wonders, especially healing the sick and exorcising demons, are to be expected and pursued.  The power of God will therefore be seen both in the proclamation of his Word and the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit.  What often happens, at a conference or workshop or sermon dealing with this subject, is that the speaker takes this story of the sending of the disciples and applies it directly to us.  What town or community are you going to preach the Gospel in?  Don’t you hear the call of the Spirit in your heart to heal the sick and save the lost?  You and your church need to organize, get out there, and get to work!  And if you don’t know how to get started then you should come to our special training program for a special low fee, and we’ll re-train you how to be a real disciple-that-makes-disciples.

This can be very discouraging.  If this form of mission sounds foreign to who I am in Christ, does that mean all my years as a believer have been misguided and shallow?  Most of Jesus’ disciples, as far as we can tell, were fairly young adults, is it too late for those of us distracted with children to raise, or in the lower-energy golden years?  Do I have to submit myself to re-education in order to be valuable to and productive in God’s kingdom?

Thankfully the answer is “no.”  The sending of the 70 or 72 disciples was a specific example of a broad mission.  These disciples were people whom Jesus had been teaching and training for some time beforehand.  He gave them particular instructions: they were to go “two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come.”  Take note of that: Jesus was going to visit those places himself; he was simply sending these disciples ahead of him to prepare people for his arrival.  Therefore, this story by its very nature cannot be an all-encompassing picture of mission and evangelism; it’s just one example in one particular region and period of time.  We are not all particularly-trained-and-called evangelists to run around the county preaching in the streets and performing miracles.  That definitely is the gift of some, but in this room I’m not aware of anyone with that exactly sort of calling.

As our bishop reminded us when he visited us this week, God uses us in ways that match our ordinary callings.  The fellowship of elderly English ladies excelled at making afternoon tea – with the cakes and sandwiches and the whole deal.  They turned that into a ministry of service, friendship, and love in a nursing home, and eventually a large worship gathering spanning multiple generations was born.  The mission of God to bring the Gospel of his Son Jesus Christ to a broken and dying world can be carried out in myriads of ways.  As we were reminded the other day, we don’t have to force ourselves into someone else’s mold of evangelism and mission; in fact to do so would only discourage and damage us.

So we learn from passages like Luke 10 according to its principles.  When you take a Bible story and try to apply it directly and immediately to yourself, some people call that “narcigesis” – instead of exegesis (drawing out the author’s intent and meaning) it’s narcigesis (making it all about you).  The Bible is a rich book, and more often than not its pages are telling us about God first, and ourselves second (or even third).  As I’ve already done here, we have to read Bible stories in context, and pay attention to what’s going on in them.  Only when we understand the story and its message can we move on to the task of application to ourselves.

So what do we learn here in Luke 10?  Here are four big examples.

  1. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.” We have to trust that there are always people out there whom God will call to salvation in Christ.  As we minister to others in whatever ways we can, we must remember that there is always opportunity out there.  Never fall into the trap of complacency and assume that there are enough Christians out there sharing the love of Christ already.  The harvest is plentiful; keep your eyes open.
  2. I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” The specific dangers and opposition that the 70 or 72 faced are very different from the specific dangers and opposition you and I might face today. But the underlying spiritual war is identical: the world, the flesh, and the devil will oppose the Gospel of Christ in your thoughts, words, and deeds.  Just because things get difficult, that doesn’t mean God is telling you to stop; it’s far more likely that when you face harassment or opposition that you’re on the right track.
  3. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages; do not go from house to house.” Again, this is a specific instruction to specific people on a specific mission, but a basic principle is here expressed: stick to the ministry or place that you’ve been called to.  Especially in a fast-paced world such as ours, we can be tempted to give up and move on all too quickly if things don’t work out the way we hoped right away.  There is a point where Jesus commands his disciples to shake the dust off their feet and move on.  We must remember that they had itineraries to follow, and more towns to cover; we who live sedentary lives must take a much more long-term approach to our activities and commitments in serving our communities.
  4. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” When you meet with success, and the church grows and God’s kingdom prospers, don’t pat yourselves on the back too much.  As the disciples were not to rejoice that they had such authority over demons, neither should we rejoice at our cleverness when we see the hearts and lives of others turn to Christ.  Rather, we rejoice, we worship God, because he has saved us.  As important as mission and evangelism is, as important and significant is Christian service, these are not the reasons we gather for worship.  We worship God because he is worthy; and though we are unworthy in ourselves, he has written our names in the book of life, he has shown us his great mercy and love.  Times of worship can be encouraging, even inspiring to greater service, but the primary purpose of worship is always to praise and proclaim God, both in our midst as well as above and beyond us.

So let us keep watch for the opportunities the Lord may set before us.  When can we gather for fellowship more often?  What are we willing and able to do together that we can give to the Lord?  How can we come alongside those in our midst who already have a sense of outward calling and mission?  We are not the 70 or the 72, we need not (indeed should not!) attempt to become carbon copies of their assignment in Luke 10.  Rather, we are who God has made us to be.  Let us have the patience, humility, and joy to recognize ourselves for who we are in Christ, and then look to sharing that with those around us.

Let us pray.

Grant us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Overview of the book of Esther

If you aren’t following my work at The Saint Aelfric Customary, pop on over and take look! I’ve got a new video up, talking about the book of Esther.

The Saint Aelfric Customary

Evening Prayer in our Daily Office Lectionary begins the book of Esther in a couple days.  I had the joy and privilege of preaching all the way through this book a few years ago; it was a lot of fun, and I get kind of enthusiastic about it.  So please forgive me as occasionally stutter over my words in excitement as I talk about this book!

Subject Index of the video in case you want to skip around:

  • 00:00 – it’s an unusual book
  • 02:11 – Characters
  • 05:46 – A Tale of Two Esthers (Hebrew & Greek)
  • 09:50 – Authorship & Origin Questions
  • 13:58 – Canonical Purpose of the book of Esther

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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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