Introduction to 1 Esdras

And now for a book review maybe two people on the planet were looking for… the First Book of Esdras!

Where does this book come from?

In the Greek Old Testament, there are a number of books that aren’t found in the Hebrew Old Testament. These writings are called “Apocrypha” by Protestants, as an accusation of their spurious status and origin. Most of them are accounted “Deuterocanon” by Roman Catholics, as an affirmation of their full canonicity – belonging in the Old Testament on equal footing with the books in Hebrew Bible. But a few books are omitted in the Roman accounting of the Deuterocanon, and this is one of them. 1 and 2 Esdras are, however, included in the Latin Vulgate Bible as an appendix, much like how they and the rest of the apocrypha/deuterocanon were included as an appendix in the original Protestant Bibles.

It can be read on BibleGateway.com in certain translations, on this University of Michigan site if you prefer seeing the whole thing on one page, in the Orthodox Study Bible under the title of 1 Ezra (because they placed it as a prequel to the book of Ezra), or in any other edition of the Bible you might find that has the full deuterocanon and apocrypha included.

What is this book?

The name Esdras is actually the Latin form of the name Ezra. In the Latin Bible, and some early English Bibles, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are called 1 and 2 Esdras, thus rendering this book 3 Esdras (and its sequel, 4 Esdras). However, once English Bibles switched to labeling Ezra and Nehemiah by their modern names, the extra books were re-labelled 1 and 2 Esdras. This can be a little confusing for those first introduced to this book, but fortunately the literature and resources (in English) these days are pretty standard in the new name scheme.

Despite its name, Ezra is probably not the author of this book. It is associated with his name (along with the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and 2 Esdras) because he is a main character within its pages. Indirectly, though, Ezra is the primary source for 1 Esdras, as the majority of its composition is a retelling of the book of Ezra.

What is in this book?

A simple summary of 1 Esdras is that it re-tells (or summarizes) the end of 2 Chronicles, the majority of Ezra, and parts of Nehemiah. Here is an outline of its contents:

Chapter 1 = The end of the Kingdom of Judah [like in 2 Chronicles]

  • verses 1-31: King Josiah’s Passover and Death
  • verses 32-55: The Last Kings of Judah and the Fall of Jerusalem

Chapters 2-5:46 = The Return of the Exiles [mostly from Ezra]

  • 2:1-11: The Edict of King Cyrus
  • 2:12-26: Opposition to the Rebuilding of the Temple
  • 3-4: Story of the Three Young Guards [original material]
  • 5:1-46: The List of Returning Exiles

Chapters 5:47-7:15 = The Building of the Temple [like in Ezra]

  • 5:47-71: Reconstruction
  • 6-7: Completion

Chapters 8-9 = The Life of Ezra [mostly like in Ezra]

  • 8:1-67: Ezra’s Arrival in Jerusalem
  • 8:68-9:36: The Incident of Marriage with Pagans
  • 9:37-55: The Reading of the Law [like in Nehemiah]

I would have to do further study to be able to comment on how closely it repeats the narrative of 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Some sections may be word-for-word copied, others might be rephrased; I’ve yet to investigate in that level of detail.

What is the use of this book?

One might ask why bother with reading 1 Esdras if so much of it is a repeat of three other books in the undisputed canon of Scripture. First of all, it is listed in our 6th Article of Religion as one of the addition books useful for instruction in manners and the Christian life.

Second, and more practically, the repetitious nature of this book does not necessarily negate its usefulness. 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings are closely replicated in 1 & 2 Chronicles, but with different details and emphases along the way. Occasionally they even seem to contradict each other, though most of those differences can be understood with careful study of the relevant terminology and writing styles and purposes. A similar benefit could be derived from the comparative study of 1 Esdras against Ezra and Nehemiah. In particular, the inclusion of the end of 2 Chronicles at the beginning of 1 Esdras highlights a sense of continuity from the Kingdom of Judah to 2nd Temple Judea that isn’t depicted as explicitly in other books.

Last but not least, 1 Esdras has an original story in chapters 3 and 4. The lack of reference to this story in any other book of undisputed canonicity suggests that we ought not take this story seriously in the historical sense, but as a story it still delivers some excellent lessons.

The Three Young Guards

Under the Persian King, Darius, three bodyguards challenge one another to impress the king with a contest, determining and arguing “what one thing is strongest; and to him whose statement seems wisest, Darius the king will give rich gifts and great honors of victory” (3:5). They consider the rewards before them and summarize what their answers will be through verse 17.

In 3:17-24 the first guard delivers his argument. “Gentlemen, how is wine the strongest? It leads astray the minds of all who drink it. It makes equal the mind of the king and the orphan, of the slave and the free…

In 4:1-12 the second guard delivers his argument. “Gentlemen, are not men strongest, who rule over land and sea and all that is in them? But the king is stronger; he is the lord and master…

In 4:13-41 the third guard delivers his argument in two parts. “Gentlemen, is not the king great, and are not men many, and is not wine strong? Who then is their master, or who is their lord? Is it not women? Women gave birth to the king and to every people that rules over sea and land…” (It’s an excellent speech uplifting the dignity and power of women that is worth visiting in these tumultuous times!) “Gentlemen, are not women strong? The earth is vast, and heaven is high, and the sun is swift in its course, for it makes the circuit of the heavens and returns to its place in one day. Is he not great who does these things? But truth is great, and stronger than all things. The whole earth calls upon truth…

This third guard is named Zerubbabel, and he wins the contest. He is, in this book, the Zerubbabel who returns to Jerusalem with the favor (and riches) of the king to rebuild the Temple. There is a chronological issue here: Zerubbabel in the book of Ezra was in the first group of exiles who returned under King Cyrus, not Darius. So either this story has the wrong king named or it’s more legend than fact. But that lack of historicity does not take away from the value of the discourses from the three guards, and the speech by Zerubbabel on the supremacy of God’s truth is perfectly sound teaching both for its Old Covenant Jewish context and for our New Covenant Christian context. I daresay it’s worth a read, and even a sermon at some point.

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How is civil life to be run – Summarizing Articles 37-39

For the most part, the final three Articles dealing with the relationship between Church and State contain a political theology that is familiar to the American reader today.  Promises and solemn oaths are permitted, the ownership of property is upheld (thus rendering biblical charity a giving up from one’s own lot), the relationship of control between the Church and the State is spelled out in reasonably understandable terms.  The Church’s ministers are not exempt from the prosecution of the civil law, the Church’s doctrines and practices are not subject to civil law.  To a large extent, the Anglican approach to relating Church and State is what the American tradition inherited.

But there is one major difference, of course: the crown has an explicit charge or care over the Church.  Initially, the language used was that the King was the “supreme head” of the Church, but in the mid-1500’s this was changed to “supreme governor” – partly because a woman was on the throne and biblical headship is a male image, not female, and partly because headship over the Church is better left to describe Christ himself.  Nevertheless, the idea of the national monarch governing the Church is utterly alien to our American context.  We have neither a monarch nor a federally-recognized state church.  How then do we receive these parts of our historic formularies outside of England?

Precedent shows us the way.  In the aftermath of the Reformation, Scotland’s official state church ended up being Presbyterian.  Their episcopal church (that is, having bishops) remained in communion with the Church of England, and thus was the first “Anglican Province” outside of England (though the term Anglican was not used for some time).  The Scottish Episcopal Church, and then in 1789 also the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, formed a larger communion outside the confines of England which would eventually grow much larger through missionary efforts throughout the British Empire in the following two centuries.  In both of these cases, the Anglican churches that weren’t official state churches retained the practice of praying for the national leaders and society.  In some ways, they acted as if they were the state church: taking on the commitment to pray for all aspects of government and society.

Obviously the concept of the state church (be it official or not) can have its downsides.  As the government of England secularized through the 19th century, the Church found itself wed to an increasingly indifferent and eventually hostile state.  The political and societal pressures upon the Church of England to conform to modernist and post-modern values became more and more difficult to resist.  Similarly in America, with a thoroughly secular state from the start, the temptation to reflect the state and society in the Church slowly tugged the Episcopal Church away from its theological moorings.  These downsides have led many Christians to believe that state churches are inherently bad, dangerous, or unbiblical.  This is not necessarily the case, but recent history has made it clear that the Church has to stand firm according to her historic teachings regardless of the pressures put upon her.  Kings, Presidents, Assemblies, and even entire countries come and go, but the Church is God’s covenant community forever.  However much or little we receive the patronage and care of the government, we have a charge to keep.  We “give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word, or of the Sacraments,” nor do we give the same over to public opinion.

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O come let us adore him

O Come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethelehem; Come and adore him, born the King of angels.

For weeks we have repeated the Bible’s final prayer: “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”  We have sung “O come, O come Emmanuel,” and many other prophetic names of Christ.  And now at last, he has come.  The anniversary of his birth has arrived, and he has been born in our hearts anew.  Upon his birth, the Christ Child was the King of a purely invisible Kingdom; his subjects were angels.  But immediately he had the devotion and worship of his parents, and then some shepherds, and later of some wise men or some kings from the East.  The King of Angels was becoming the King of Man.

After weeks of calling upon Jesus to come, the Church turns the tables on us and invites us to come and adore Him.  Though there are pictures and models and re-creations of Bethlehem for us to feast our eyes upon today, we no longer go there to adore Him.  Rather, we turn to other Bethlehems of another sort.  We turn to the Bethlehem of the Church, where Christ continually dwells through his Spirit.  We turn to the Bethlehem of the Bible, where the Word of Christ can be heard.  We turn to the Bethlehem of the Sacraments, where Christ’s grace can be received.

God of God, Light of Light, Lo! he abhors not the Virgin’s womb: very God, begotten, not created.

This child is not just the son of Mary, he’s also the Son of God.  Since the writing of the scriptures, the Church has always taught that God did not just became a man or the word became a flesh, but that God became man, the Word became flesh.  God the Son descended not to inhabit the body of one man, but to indwell the lives of every man, woman, and child.  He abhors not the virgin’s womb, and he abhors not the sinner’s penitent heart.

Thus we see in the incarnation the beginning of the great heavenly wedding.  The marriage between Christ and his Church begins here in the uniting of the divine nature with the human nature.  The Word of God takes on not just a human body, but encompasses all of humanity.  The great and bitter divide between the untainted world of heaven and the sin-stained world of earth finds its union begun in the incarnation, and as the Body of Christ grows beyond the confines of the person of Jesus to include his Blessed Mother, John the Baptist, the Apostles, and every Christian thereafter, the marriage-like union of heaven and earth expands ever more and more.

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation, sing all ye citizens of heaven above; ‘Glory to God in the highest.’

The perfect and unending worship of God in heaven has overflowed.  With the Word-made-flesh born in Bethlehem, and the union of heaven and earth begun, the blessed words of heaven resound on earth.  The angels shared their hymn with simple shepherds that first Christmas night, and God’s people have been singing it ever since.  When we sing or say the Gloria in excelsis Deo, we are not repeating the mere favorite hymn of some long-dead liturgist, we are joining with the Angels and all the citizens of heaven in their perfect liturgy of worship above.  The union of heaven and earth is celebrated and strengthened as we pray and worship together.  The same is true for that other angelic hymn we repeat every Communion, the Sanctus: holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts; heaven and earth are full of thy glory!

See how the shepherds, summoned to the cradle, leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze; we too will thither bend our joyful footsteps.

Some argue that Christmas could not have been around December 25th because the shepherds would not have been pasturing the sheep at that time of year.  But that is not quite true; although many sheep would indeed be kept in their folds during that season, there were some out in the fields: the lambs being raised for the Passover just a few months away.  These shepherds may have been poor and unimportant, but the job they had was important on account of the sacred purpose for which their sheep were being raised.  But the angels’ Gospel called them to something greater, and they left the sheep to come and adore the true Lamb of God who would grow up to be the most perfect Sacrifice of all.

We, too, are bidden by the same Gospel to lay aside anything and everything for the cause of Christ.  Most of the first Apostles left behind their livelihoods to travel with Jesus for three years.  The ordained ministers of Christ, to this day, take vows to set aside all things that will hinder us from advancement in the study and knowledge of Christ and his doctrine.  All Christians, upon Baptism and Confirmation in the Church, renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil before embracing Christ, his Church, and his Gospel.  We must remember and celebrate that some gave up all to follow Christ, and we must remember and celebrate that we all give up some to follow Christ.

Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger, we would embrace thee, with love and awe; who would not love thee, loving us so dearly?

In the words of St. Paul, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).  In the words of St. John, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).  In the incarnation, just as at the Cross, we see the prevenient grace of God – the great love He has for us before we ever ask or deserve.  Jesus met the poverty of our sinfulness with the poverty of the manger.  Jesus would go on to expiate, or take away, the wrath of God by means of his perfect sacrifice on the Cross.  In both cases his unmatched love is shown.  How could we not respond in kind?

Yeah, Lord, we greet thee, born that happy morning; Jesus to thee be glory given; Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.

In the wee hours of that morning, Jesus passed from his invisible life in the womb of Mary to his visible life on earth.  On the cosmic scale, the Word of God went from an invisible power, known only by Prophets of old and their sacred writings, to a visible person.  The Word became flesh.  No longer was knowledge of God and his Word to be mediated through imperfect representatives; God was present in the flesh for any to behold.  O happy morning indeed!  And though he now lives in heaven, ever making intercession for us, he may still be met in Scripture and Sacrament, which are not like the imperfect representatives of old, but are infallible in their communication of Him, if we just hear and receive them with faith, lest the Word fall on deaf hears and hardened hearts.  Let us give glory to him, glory to Jesus.

O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

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Article 39: Swearing Oaths

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

XXXIX. Of a Christian man’s Oath

As we confess that vain and rash Swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle, so we judge, that Christian Religion doth not prohibit, but that a man may swear when the Magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the Prophet’s teaching, in justice, judgement, and truth.

As with the previous Article, this final 39th Article addresses an issue of civil life which had been raised in the Anabaptist tradition: they refused to swear oaths of any kind.  Following the New Testament passages alluded to in this Article (Matthew 5:33-37 and James 5:12) they concluded that Christians were not allowed to swear any sort of oath, including the standard oath to speak the truth in a court of law.  To this day, certain religious traditions refuse to participate in that standard practice.  Countering this, Article 39 cites “the Prophet’s teaching” from Jeremiah 4:2, which says “and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.”  Thus, it is quite permissible for us to comply with civil law and custom concerning solemn oaths – whether it’s swearing to tell the truth in the court or “swearing in” to a public office.

What is taught against, in this Article, is “vain and rash Swearing”.  The most basic application of this is the 3rd Commandment: we are not to take the Lord’s name in vain.  That is the usual biblical meaning of swearing – thoughtlessly using the name of God to back up something we say or promise, or simply using God’s name as a mere exclamation.  All of that is sin, and therefore “is forbidden”.

All in all, this is a simple Article of faith.  We are to mean what we say, and say what we mean.  The sacred names of God are holy, and we are to speak of him and invoke his name only “in justice, judgement, and truth.”  If we do so off-the-cuff, as it were, we are very likely being rash and falling into sin.  But a considered promise or appeal to God’s name, such as those we make at Holy Baptism or Confirmation, is entirely in line with biblical teaching about Christian conduct and speech.

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O Virgo Virginum

O Come, O Come Emmanuel is one of the best-known Advent hymns still sung today.  Although many hymnals print it with about four verses, a few (such as ours) include seven verses, drawn from a detail of liturgical minutia which might otherwise be lost to the ages.

Each verse of this hymn was originally an antiphon used with the Magnificat (Mary’s Song) in Evening Prayer on the last seven evenings before Christmas Eve.  The Prayer Book tradition has not preserved the use of antiphons with the Psalms or Canticles of the Daily Office (with one modern exception) due to interest in simplicity – too many variable parts of the liturgy would make the liturgy books too complex for people to use without unnecessarily extensive training.

These antiphons are collectively referred to as the O Antiphons because they each begin by addressing Christ:

  • O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
  • O Adonia (O Lord)
  • O Radix Jesse (O Rod of Jesse)
  • O Clavis David (O Key of David)
  • O Oriens (O Dayspring)
  • O Rex Gentium (O King of Nations)
  • O Emmanuel (O God-with-us)

Traditionally, they would be used in the above order on December 17th through 23rd.

But medieval liturgical practice was not monolithic; there was regional variation.  And one such variant was found in England.  Several additional “O Antiphons” can be found scattered throughout 1st millennium English liturgical manuscripts, but one survived through the centuries all the way until the Reformation: O Virgo Virginum (O Virgin of Virgins).  Translated into English, this Antiphon reads

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

Unlike the other antiphons, which use an Old Testament image as a picture of Jesus, this one uses Old Testament language (“daughters of Jerusalem…”) as a picture of Mary.  This 8th antiphon was used on December 23rd, bumping the other seven back an evening to start on the 16th.

To my knowledge this eighth antiphon has never been adapted to fit the hymn O come O come Emmanual, so with a little online crowdsourcing help to make the poetry more manageable, I arranged this eighth verse:

O Virgin great! How shall this be?
For none before nor hence were like to thee;
Why, Salem’s daughters, marvel ye?
Behold, a heav’nly mystery!

Rejoice!  Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

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Learning from the Liturgy: Advent & Christmas

Advent is one of those seasons of the Christian calendar that most non-liturgical Christians have heard of, but usually don’t quite understand.  Through the popularity of Advent devotionals and Advent Calendars, many come to assume that Advent begins on December 1st.  This is a good approximation, and is handy for re-usable devotional resources.  But in actuality, Advent begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas Day.  As a result of this, Advent could be anywhere from 22 to 28 days long.

There was evening, and there was morning, the first day.” As the creation story of Genesis 1 accounts evening before morning, Jewish religious practice went on to observe a “day” as beginning at sundown.  The Sabbath, therefore, begins on Friday evening and lasts until Saturday evening.  This tradition is retained in Christian practice: the liturgical day begins in the evening.  This does not affect ordinary life most of the time, but for Sundays and holidays, this means that their observance can begin on Saturday evening.

What’s the deal?

Christmas Eve is one of the famous examples of this liturgical rule.  The celebration of Christmas begins with Vespers, or Evening Prayer on December 24th, or, in more prominent tradition today, with an evening Communion service.

But the Christmas holiday takes this tradition a step further.  Although attending worship on Christmas Eve “counts” for observing Christmas Day, there are different Propers – collects and readings – for different Christmas celebrations.  Christmas Eve has one, Christmas Sunrise has a second, and the third is intended to be the “principle” or primary worship service on Christmas Day.  Easter is the only other holiday in the Anglican tradition that has the same phenomenon of multiple different Propers for the same liturgical day.

This makes for a much richer celebration and study for the Christmas holiday compared to most holy days.  It can also make for an unusually full schedule for the diligent church-goer this year:

Sunday morning: 4th Sunday of Advent

Collect: Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and as we are sorely hindered by our sins from running the race that is set before us, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever.

Morning Prayer: Isaiah 35; Matthew 25:31-end

Holy Communion: 2 Samuel 7:1-17; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Sunday evening: Christmas Eve

Collect: O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the revelation of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.

Evening Prayer: Zechariah 2:10-end; Hebrews 2:10-18

Holy Communion: Isaiah 9:1-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

Monday: Christmas Day

Collect: Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and forever.

Sunrise Communion: Isaiah 62:6-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:(1-14)15-20

Morning Prayer: Isaiah 9:2-7; Matthew 1:(1-17)18-25

Principle Communion: Isaiah 52:7-12; Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-18

Evening Prayer: Isaiah 7:10-14(15-25); 1 John 4:7-end

It’s worth pointing out that amidst all these worship services appointed, there are only one or two minor repeats in the Scripture readings.  In two days you could attend church eight times and hear 19 different passages from the Bible read, not counting the various Psalms prayed along the way!

What’s the big deal?

Some, especially those from outside the liturgical traditions, see these long lists of worship services, balk, and exclaim that it’s too complicated.  Why not just simplify it and have your Christmas service on Sunday?  It would be a lot more convenient.

But the liturgy does not exist to be convenient, it exists to shape us as the One Body of Christ and to enable us to glorify God accordingly.  The liturgy directs us to interrupt our secular routines and focus on the sacred.  If we conduct our worship entirely according to what is convenient for us, or pleasing to us, or the most accessible, then worship becomes not about God but about us.  The goal of worship is no longer the glory of God, but the comfort of man.  We need only step inside the average evangelical church today to see some of the unhealthy fruit of this tendency – a worship life devolved into musical entertainment with a feel-good message that dutifully mentions the Bible along the way.

Following a common plan, whatever the local circumstances or preferences may be, unites us across the demographic boundaries that would otherwise divide us.  And if the plan is sound, as we believe our Prayer Book tradition to be, the benefits of adhering to it are great!  The full message of the Advent season – all four Sundays of it – is carried through before we proceed to Christmas.  We practice the discipline of waiting: we wait for Christmas to arrive at its due time; we wait for the arrival of Christ in God’s own time; we wait for the work of the Holy Spirit to proceed in his own time.

Thus, we who do it “by the book” are not mere liturgical sticklers and killjoys, but are seeking to allow the Gospel message to work upon us in real time throughout the year apart from our own volition and direction.  As we practice the discipline of worshiping under a set order, we learn the deeper lesson of obeying our Lord himself in all aspects of life, however inconvenient or uncomfortable that may be.

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

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Article 38: Private Possessions

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 38 states:

XXXVIII. Of Christian men’s Goods, which are not common

The Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast. Notwithstanding, every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability.

As a whole, these thirty-nine Articles of Religion are a collection of points of faith that set out both statements of belief as well as boundaries that identify which is outside the biblical faith of the Church.  A few Articles have already named one extreme that is outside the bounds of the Anglican tradition, namely the “Roman” or “Papist” accretions to catholic doctrines.  Article 38, here, names another tradition that puts forth doctrines contrary to the Christian faith: the Anabaptists.  They were implicitly warned against in Article 27, wherein the practice of infant baptism is upheld, but this is the first (and only) time they are named specifically.

One of the features of the Anabaptist traditions when these Articles were written was their tendency to form tight-knit communities and renounce individual ownership of possessions in favor of common ownership among the members of the church.  They did so with strong arguments to defend their views drawn both from the Scriptures and the Early Church, most noteably Acts 4:32 – “the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”  Article 38 somewhat ironically references this text to say seemingly the opposite.  The critical error of the Anabaptists of the day was that the sharing of possessions ended up being church-enforced.  And besides, there are no universal teachings anywhere in the Scriptures that private ownership is to be eschewed.

Rather, God’s people are called to be liberal, “according to his ability”.  This doesn’t mean we are to give if we are able, but as we are able.  The difference is key: generosity is not the sole purview of the comfortably rich, but of all God’s people.  As two of the Offertory Sentences available in our liturgy explains, “They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you” (Deut. 16:16-17) and “If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity” (Tobit 4:8-9).

Sometimes people take teachings like Article 38 a step further and conclude that Christians are to be capitalists.  Such an assertion is a step too far.  No economic theory will perfectly capture the biblical teachings; no invention of man can live up to the decrees of God.  The teachings to liberality throughout the Bible and the system of property ownership detailed in the Law of Moses suggest a ‘distributist’ approach to economics, but again this does not endorse the economic ramification of modern theories such as socialism or communism either.  As with politics and philosophy, a Christian’s approach economics must be defined by the teaching of Scriptures first, making use of modern theories secondarily.  Whatever we conclude about the role of the state and the rights of the property owner, we know that the Church has no authority over her members’ assets, but that it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

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