St Crispin’s Day: the Reversal of Fortunes

Who were Crispin and Crispinian (abbreviated from Wikipedia)

Born to a noble Roman family in the 3rd century AD, Saints Crispin and Crispinian fled persecution for their faith, ending up at Soissons, where they preached to the Gauls whilst making shoes by night.  They earned enough by their trade to support themselves and also to aid the poor. Their success attracted the ire of the local governor, who had them tortured and thrown into the river with millstones around their necks. Though they survived, they were beheaded by the Emperor.

Saint Crispin’s Day in history and culture (abbreviated from Wikipedia)

Several important battles were fought on this day in history, most famously the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, in which the English were terribly outnumbered but managed a victory over the French army.  This was enshrined in British cultural memory a hundred years later in Shakespeare’s play Henry V, complete with an oft-quoted speech.  Perhaps part of it will ring a bell: “Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, / From this day to the ending of the world, / But we in it shall be remember’d; / We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

A Lesson in the Reversal of Fortunes

It may seem jarring, at first, to associate the death of martyrs with an army victorious in battle.  Two holy brothers, Crispin & Crispinian, died on this day, yet the English remember an unlikely but critical victory also.  Do these two things have anything in common whatsoever, or is Shakespeare’s speech put into the mouth of King Henry V a complete non sequitur to the religious observance?

The resolution of this conundrum is found in our first reading.  In the vision attributed to Ezra (but actually penned by someone else) those who have confessed the name of God… are being crowned.  Even in the midst of martyrdom of death, those who faithfully believe and proclaim God’s Word enjoy an ultimate victory.  Crispin and Crispinian died at the hands of men, but have gone on to join the whole company of heaven receiving their true reward from the hands of Jesus himself.  Though their fortunes in this world went downhill, glory awaited them in eternal life.  The unexpected English victory at Agincourt is a tiny picture of this biblical truth: though our evils seem to outnumber our good works, and though suffering seems to overtake our happiness, there is a glorious victory awaiting all who confess the Name of Christ.

Psalm 126 on the Reversal of Fortunes

Our take-home summary of this lesson is Psalm 126.  This Psalm is all about the reversal of fortunes.  It begins with saying that it was like a dream-come-true when God restored their fortunes.  This probably referred to the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the exile of God’s people, and we can take it to prefigure our arrival in heaven – the eternal promised land.  It describes the laughter, the joy, the songs, and the recognition from other peoples that God has done great things for his people.  Even now, with only a foretaste of heaven we sing and proclaim the good news of Christ throughout the world.  “The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad!”

The Psalm ends with a prayer: “Restore our fortunes, like the watercourses in the Negev”, that is, the South.  It’s a dry desert region that needs more water.  It’s used as a picture of this life: we do not find water that quenches our spiritual thirst anywhere in this world no matter how deeply into other religions and philosophies and hopes we dig our wells.  The water of life springs up only from Christ.  So when we turn to him, we find eternal life.  Our weeping turns to shouts of joy.  Our seeds for sowing turn to whole sheaves – that is the potential for sustenance becomes a veritable banquet.

We celebrate this, especially, in the Lord’s Supper, where mere wafers of bread and sips of wine communicate to us the Body and Blood of Christ, the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.  The great reversal of fortunes, from sin and death to light and life, is portrayed and proclaimed in these times of worship.  Take this spiritual food tonight for your spiritual nourishment.  And take this Psalm home with you on your lips that God’s nourishment may stay afresh in your hearts and minds.

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Give Unto Caesar

This is my homily for 22 October 2017, on Isaiah 45:1-7 & Matthew 22:15-22.

Today we’ve got a fun couple of Scripture readings to deal with.  The main one we’re going to address is the Gospel reading, containing Jesus’ famous teaching to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.  The political implications of this have been a thorn in the side of many a Christian ever since.  The other fun feature of our readings is the beginning of Isaiah 45, where the Persian King, a Gentile and a Pagan, is upheld as God’s servant to deliver his people.  Again, the potential political implications can get very messy very easily in the hands of an unprepared teacher.

Concerning Cyrus

Let’s begin with Cyrus in Isaiah 45.  Some of you may have heard on the news last year, during the presidential election season, the occasional pastor or ‘prophet’ endorsing Donald Trump using this passage.  They were looking for a sign from God to reveal His will in that election.  They opened their Bibles to Isaiah chapter 45, on the cusp of electing our 45th president, and they saw in Cyrus a picture of Donald Trump.  They concluded that Trump was God’s anointed, and used this passage to defend all the non-christian things Trump said; he may not be perfect, but he’s obviously God’s servant to “subdue nations before him” and all that good stuff.

I trust that you all realize this, but all of that was sheer and utter nonsense.  Those pastors and prophets are false pastors and prophets.  They were not rightly handling the Word of God by any stretch of the imagination.  The Persian King, Cyrus, was indeed God’s chosen political leader to restore the Jews to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple in his day, but it had nothing to do with Cyrus’ worthiness.  He was still a corrupt and arguably evil and incompetent king.  Rather, it was all about God’s promise: he had promised that the Israelite exile would last for 70 years, and then they would go home.  Cyrus was simply the king in power in Mesopotamia when that time was up.  This in no way justifies Cyrus’ “rough edges” or his paganism, and absolutely has nothing to say about any subsequent political ruler, much less an American election.  Those who claimed this passage spoke about Donald Trump need to repent of their horrific abuse of the Sacred Scriptures.

I should also point out that it is these same sorts of charlatans with whom our President surrounds himself as his “spiritual advisors.”  So in your prayers for our President, both in the Prayer of the People here in the liturgy, as well as on your own, be sure to pray for the conversion of his soul and for the lies that surround him to be broken, that he might actually get to hear the Gospel.

Anyway, as we look at King Cyrus in the Bible, we are to see that God used him despite his lack of faith, just as God used several wicked Pharaohs of Egypt beforehand, to continue His work with his chosen people in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah, the Christ: Jesus.  Even though Cyrus was a godless heathen, the Jews were invited to give thanks for what God was doing through him, and this became an example of the biblical teaching that God’s people are to respect earthly authorities whether they are faithful or faithless.

Concerning Ceasar

This sets the context for the question put to Jesus in Matthew 22.  The Pharisees send their servants to question Jesus, hoping to get him in trouble by pitting divine authority against earthly authority, using taxes as an example.  Jesus answers in accord with what the Old Testament already taught: give to the king what is due the king, and give to God what is due to God.  Thus, even though St. Paul would go on to teach us that our true citizenship is in heaven, we are to still to “seek the prosperity of the city” as Jeremiah the Prophet had taught centuries before.

As we strive to live according to this teaching in our own day, this particular lesson alternately becomes popular every 4 or 8 years.  When Bush was in office, you’d hear Republican Christians quoting this all the time.  When Clinton was in office, this passage went strangely quiet.  When Bush II was in office, we heard it a lot more again.  When Obama was in office, it disappeared again.  Now that Trump is in office, this passage is popular again.  Christians more towards the political Left, perhaps, have touted this passage at the opposite times as their right-wing counterparts.  The fact is, this passage is true no matter who’s in power.  The Caesars of the Roman Empire during Jesus’ lifetime and shortly thereafter were positively terrible men.  You might have complaints about Barak Obama or Hilary Clinton, but the Caesars at that point in history had begun to claim, openly and directly, that they were divine, and to be worshiped.  Gripe all you like about American politics in the 21st century, but we do not have leaders who literally have God complexes; or at least not yet.  We may see the majority of the Ten Commandments violated by our Democrat and Republican leaders alike, but at least none have put forth the ultimate blasphemy of deifying themselves.

And yet Jesus taught his disciples to pay taxes to these monsters.  And the Apostles Paul and Peter would go on to write about obedience and reverence and respect to these corrupt emperors, kings, and governors.  Thinking about last year’s election season, I heard people say “If Hilary Clinton is elected, I’m not sure I’ll be able to abide her name showing up in the prayers of the people.”  And once this year began, I heard other people doing the same with Donald Trump, not being able to bring themselves to speak his name in their church’s prayers.  Both of these impulses, while emotionally understandable, are in defiance of biblical teaching.

In the past month or two, especially on the internet, a secular paraphrase of Jesus’ teaching has been “stand for the flag; kneel for the cross.”  It sounds good at first, but its popularity died out very quickly.  The problem was this: how many people actually kneel for the Cross?  In a lot of church traditions, if I were to walk in and tell people to kneel before a Cross in prayer, I’d be accused of idolatry!  People are quick to talk about kneeling before God, or mention it in songs, as long as it’s only a metaphor for obedience.  But standing for the flag is not a metaphor, we have to stand for the flag?  The inconsistency here, I think, got a little too close for comfort, and so the slogan was dropped.

This slogan, of “stand for the flag, kneel for the cross,” you may be aware, originated in opposition to the practice of taking a knee during the national anthem at football games.  Lots of people were more interested in enforcing visible conformity in reverencing the flag without wanting to address the racism and other injustices that those kneeling were actually protesting.  It was largely ignored that these protests began with folks like Colin Kaepernick sitting on the bench, which he changed to kneeling after talking with a military veteran who told him that kneeling would be a more respectful form of protest than sitting.  But of course, there are people more interested in restoring the visual status quo without addressing the root of the problem.

Conflict of Kingdoms

I mention this not to be a pest, but because it leads us to another important and difficult question: how far does Christian obedience to the State go?  What room do we have for protest?

First, we understand that Caesar and God are different beings worthy of different things.  What we owe to God and what we owe to earthly rulers are not the same.  I already mentioned the problem of Emperor-worship in the Roman Empire, which was a perennial issue throughout the ancient world.  When earthly rulers demand a respect and an allegiance that overshadows our service to Christ, they are asking too much.  Through the first three centuries of Church History, one of the main ways this issue manifested was in the offering of incense to an image of the Emperor.  This was a loyalty test, and it was a simple act of patriotism: just wave the incense in front of a picture of the Caesar, a simple token gesture of worship, and the officials will be happy.  But as harmless as that may seem, Christians recognized that true worship, latria in Greek, related to the word “liturgy”, is due to God alone, and to reverence the Emperor in this way would be idolatry, which is utterly forbidden to us.  Even a token gesture of idolatry was unacceptable.  And so, many Christians were executed, martyred for the faith.

Granted, we do not face such obviously idolatrous demands from our earthly rulers – not in this country at this time.  But, as in every period of history, we must not go through the motions of socially-accepted patriotism without thinking about what we are doing or saying.  We are to give our earthly authorities their due reverence as the Scriptures teach us, but we are not give them what belongs to God alone.  Before we open our mouths we should consider what it means to “pledge” our “allegiance” to the national colors, and what claims about the State that pledge makes.  We should consider what the symbolism of putting our right hand over our heart is.  We should consider the lengths we go to respect our earthly home with our postures and gestures, and compare them with the lengths we go to respect our heavenly home with our postures and gestures.  I say these things not to attack all forms of American Civil Religion, but to remind you that idolatry is often a subtle thing, and we must therefore approach patriotism with a sober and attentive mind.

What this all comes down to in the end is knowing the difference between conditional obedience and unconditional obedience.

To all earthly powers, we are taught to offer conditional obedience.  The reason for this is twofold: first, earthly powers are fallible.  They make mistakes, they are as steeped in sin as the people they rule, often moreso if we believe Churchill’s famous quote, “power corrupts.”  We cannot give perfect obedience to an authority that cannot govern perfectly.  Secondly, earthly powers are temporary.  Eventually the Roman Empire would fall, the Byzantine Empire would fall, the Spanish Empire would fall, the British Empire would fall, the American State would fall.  We cannot give eternal obedience to an authority that won’t be there forever.  As a result, the due obedience and service that we render according to our earthly citizenship will always be conditional, we have to evaluate the commands and laws put upon us, and when (not if) they conflict with the greater commands upon us, we must respectfully disobey the earthly in deference to the heavenly.

To God alone, then, we offer unconditional obedience.  God alone is perfect and eternal.  And if you read Psalms 19 or 119 you will be reminded over and over again that God’s law is also perfect and eternal.  Thus while it is useful to be versed in the laws of the land, and familiar with the culture’s expectations of good citizenship, we must be all the more versed in the Word of God, and familiar with our Lord’s teaching about true holiness as befits God’s people.  While it is good to seek earthly liberty and justice, it is all the more important to seek Christian liberty and justice: that is, freedom from the bondage of sin for ourselves and others.

With that in mind, let us pray together the Collect of the Day.

Set us free, loving Father, from the bondage of our sins, and in your goodness and mercy give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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Article 31: the Sacrifice of Christ

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 31 states:

XXXI. Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross

The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.

Article 31 is distinctly one of reformation of malpractice rather than an affirmation of historic practice.  The high regard in which the Sacrament of Holy Communion was held had eventually become exaggerated.  The offering of the Body of Christ for the life of the world (John 6:51) had come to focus too much on its sacramental presentation at the expense of the once-for-all-time historic death of Christ on the Cross.  Some of this was due to superstitious laity, some of it was due to uneducated priests, some of it was due to unbalanced teaching in the Church; whatever the cause, the end result was that many treated the Sacrament as if it were an effective sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins alongside Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.

This Article 31 identifies as “blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits,” for it leads one to put one’s hope in the offering of Masses rather than on the actual death of our Lord.  This has been reacted to in approximately three different ways.

  1. The reaction of many Protestants since has been to do away with any and all mention of the concept of sacrifice from the celebration of Holy Communion: Jesus made the sacrifice, and we simply remember it. This is a little extreme, and is not a part of Anglican teaching.
  2. Other Reformers kept the concept of sacrifice in the celebration of Holy Communion, but kept it restricted to our offering a “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” This phrase has been present in Anglican liturgies to this day.
  3. The most conservative of Reformers, however, were content to continue to speak of “the sacrifices of Masses” with the refined understanding that in Holy Communion the sacrifice of Christ is re-presented to God by his faithful people in the knowledge that His self-offering on the Cross is what is being communicated to is in the bread and wine; we are drawn back to the foot of the Cross as we kneel to participate in His Body and Blood.

As already noted, the first reactionary view is not substantially present in the Anglican tradition; it smacks of an anti-Catholic agenda overruling the pro-Scripture agenda.  The second and third views, respectively, are found in the low church and high church traditions of Anglicanism.  And although they can overlap, theologians who champion one view tend to see the other as anemic or excessive.  Thus, as interpretation of Article 31 may vary, we are also bound by the words, rituals, and theology of the Prayer Book to flesh this out further.  While this does not force complete theological unity in every detail, it does provide with a common language in which we can worship together with integrity and in peace.

It is fair to note, as an aside, that the Roman teaching on the link between the Mass and the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross has been cleaned up a great deal in recent times.  Many of the medieval superstitions and excesses surround this doctrine have been dealt with.  But even still the efficacy of the Mass for the benefit of souls both living and in purgatory continue to defy the scope of what Scripture teaches, and thus Article 31 remains as a necessary reform to keep on the table.

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What are the sacraments? – summarizing Articles 25-30

The six Articles of Religion pertaining to the doctrine and discipline of the sacraments can be described as “Classically Protestant.”  This stands in distinction to the course of modern Protestantism particularly in America.  The Anglican position on the Sacraments was worked out in between two extremes: that of the Roman Church and that of the Radical Reformers.  In Roman piety and teaching, the place of the Sacraments were often exaggerated: too often withheld from the ordinary Christian, venerated sometimes to the point of idolatry.  The Radical Reformers took the opposite extreme by denying that the Sacraments actually do anything, claiming instead that only the faith of the individual is God’s “means of grace” in our lives.

Today, the majority of popular Evangelicalism has drifted in line with the Radical teachings: Baptism is seen as a symbol of one’s conversion and new birth, thus making it an opportunity for the individual profess his or her faith, rather than receiving God’s grace of new birth; Communion is seen as a symbol of unity with Christ, rather than an actual participation in Christ’s Body and Blood.  And, of course, the Romans are still Romans, though their excesses of the medieval age with regard to the Sacraments have largely been calmed in the past couple centuries.

These Articles, therefore, remain immediately relevant, important, and needed in the course of Christian teaching today.  Especially in the Anglican tradition right now, many of our members and clergy were in other Christian traditions before becoming Anglican – the solid theological grounding of these Articles of Religion are often necessary preventatives from importing unbiblical interpretations of the Sacraments into Anglican piety and practice.

Granted, there is room for a range of understanding as these Articles put forth our doctrine.  One is free to speak of two Sacraments or seven Sacraments, provided a distinction between the Lord’s Supper and Holy Baptism, and the other five, is maintained.  One is free to understand baptismal regeneration in a couple different ways while remaining faithful to Article 27 and the Prayer Book.  One is free to take different views of the real spiritual presence of Christ in Holy Communion, according to the Lutheran and Calvinist distinctives hinted at in Articles 28 and 29.  But these ranges have boundaries, holding us firmly not only in position as Classical Protestants, but also as historic Catholics, as attested especially in Article 26’s attention to historical context.

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Jesus on History and the Gospel

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants:
Our Lord’s Commentary on Old Testament History and the Gospel
a homily on Matthew 21:33-46

One of the big challenges for Bible readers is understanding the relationship between the Old Testament and the Christian.  There’s much in there that’s confusing, ancient and foreign, even questionable or downright wicked.  What do we do with all these old stories?  How do they fit in with the Gospel – the teachings of Christ and the salvation he has made us know?  There are several ways to go about answering this question; we could look at the covenants or at theological themes, the fulfillment of Law and Prophecy, or any number of other angles.  But today we’re given a fantastic summary of the Old Testament’s teachings in this parable spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ.

This parable follows directly on the heels of the one we heard last week – about the two sons: one disobedient to his father and other obedient.  That parable was directed at the Jewish religious authorities of the time, pointing out that some of the worst sorts of sinners were repenting and entering the Kingdom of God ahead of them because they only gave the appearance of devotion to God – mere lip service – while the tax collectors and prostitutes were legitimately repenting of their sinful ways.  Jesus now adds this parable to set the Pharisees in their historic context, and thus gives us a window into the history of God’s people.

Matthew 21:33-46

Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

We’ve got a vineyard as the centerpiece of this parable – something Jesus often did.  Many Prophets of the Old Testament, as well as Jesus, used the figure of a vineyard to describe Israel, God’s people.  Thus this parable sets us off with a picture of God’s covenant community as the vineyard, God’s people as the tenant farmers, God’s ordained prophets or clergy as the messenger servants, and God himself as the landowner.

The harvest, thus, is the result of the labor of God’s people.  The fruits of the vineyard of Israel, or the Church, is described in many ways: the increase of righteousness; virtues like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and other fruit of the Spirit; as well as the increase of the fellowship of God’s people – the repentance and conversion of more people from following Satan to following Christ.

35 The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way.

Moses and Aaron were rebelled against.  One of David’s sons led an insurrection against hm.  Elijah was hunted by the Queen of Israel.  Jeremiah was imprisoned multiple times by the King of Judah and his officials.  John the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod.

37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

The last of these great shepherds sent from God to lead his people in Jesus himself.

38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Like those before him, Jesus was to be mistreated by his own people.  But it was also worse than before, because in killing the Son of God, the people were literally taking God’s inheritance – their salvation – into their own hands.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”  41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”  42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Just like last week, with the parable of the two sons, the Pharisees condemn themselves at this point.  In response to this rejection, God had planned a new covenant – a new way for people to live in love and obedience to him.  This new covenant was to be made through Jesus himself, and would be built upon a second, spiritual, birth into God’s people, rather than through earthly birth into the earthly people of Israel.  Instead of cutting away man’s flesh in circumcision God would cut away one’s sin in baptism.  And in the midst of this gift of the new covenant through Christ, many would reject him, stumbling over the very foundation stone of God’s new temple, the Body of Christ.

Now let’s go beyond today’s Gospel reading and finish Jesus’ teaching in chapter 21 so we can get the full application.

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

The initial purpose of the vineyard – bearing fruit – is finally returned to.  The whole point of us Gentiles being brought into the Church at all is not simply to “replace those unfaithful Jews.”  Christianity is not a matter of anti-Semitism as some have made it out to be.  Rather, God brings people into his Church to produce fruit.  Whether you’re a Jew or a Gentile in background and family history, the call is the same: be one with Christ, be a faithful worker in God’s vineyard, walk in step with the Spirit, become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.  And Jesus makes it explicitly clear here that he is essential to understanding and receiving this new covenant.  If confrontation with Jesus, God the Son, leads one to fall or turn away, then that person will be broken or crushed under the burden of their sins.  As we confess every week, “the burden of [our sins] is more than we can bear.”  Our guilt and wickedness will crush us unless we are united with Christ and can thus accept his cleansing blood in exchange for our sins, which he alone can take away.

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

Finally the Pharisees understand Jesus.  They know that he is speaking against them, condemning them, proclaiming a Gospel they do not and will not recognize. And so they, as does everyone who chooses another path, resolve to get rid of Jesus.  To those whose eyes are darkened by lies, even the light of Christ is loathesome.

Summary Thoughts

So there we have, on one hand, a handy way of summarizing the Old Testament.  It’s God’s repeated efforts to shepherd, guide, feed, and care for his people, and our repeated rebuffs of his love.  The way Jesus was treated in Jerusalem is the epitome of how the majority of God’s holy ones in ages past had been treated by the people they were sent to care for.

On the other hand, forever thereafter, the way of martyrdom has been respected among Christians as the highest form of devotion and sacrifice: we cannot give any more to God than our own lives.  So we also get a picture in Jesus and the Prophets before him of what godly love looks like.  The call to lay our lives down before Christ, and instead to take up a Cross, and follow him… this is no simple matter.  This is not just a philosophy, nor a way of life, nor a mere relationship.  This is a religion through and through!  We are called to faith of the mind: to believe God at his Word, in the person of Jesus and in his Apostles’ written testimony in the Scriptures.  We are called to faith of the heart: to worship God and grow in love for him and see the world as he sees it.  We are called to faith of the body: to serve and obey God, to live in accordance with that same belief and worship.

It’s all well and good to say we believe and claim that is enough; “even the demons believe, and shudder!”  It’s all well and good to say we love Jesus and claim that is enough; “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  In addition to these things, Christianity is about working in the vineyard to nurture and produce its proper fruit.

At it says in one place in Scripture, the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”.  If you see these growing in your life alongside your knowledge and love of God, well and good.  If you do not, seek to know and love the Lord all the more.  “Take up and read,” as Saint Augustine learned.  “Kneel before the Lord our Maker,” as Psalm 95 puts it.  And do not neglect the opportunities of the Church gathered to seek counsel, spiritual friendship, and the other many benefits of the fellowship of God’s people.  This is one vineyard where we may all labor together.  “stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another,” (Hebrews 10:24-25a).

Let us pray.  Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in continual godliness; that through your protection it may be free from all adversities, and devotedly serve you in good works, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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Article 30: both bread & wine

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 30 states:

XXX. Of both kinds

The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.

This may seem like an odd point to be made into its own Article of faith. But in the context of its time it came off as revolutionary. For several centuries in Western practice, lay people had received Communion “in one kind” – only the bread. The wine came to be denied them, only drunk by the priests and bishops, for a variety of reasons. Part of it was financial: supplying wine to communicate an entire congregation requires a great deal more wine (especially coupled with the more frequent lay reception of Holy Communion that the Reformers demanded, this proved an enormous shift in church budgets). Part of it was logistical: wine is much more prone to spillage than the bread. Part of it was excessive piety: some supposed the Blood was more sacred than the Body, and thus fitting only for the clergy to receive. And this practice was protected by the Doctrine of Comingling: the understanding that the Body and Blood of Christ are mutually present, such that to receive Communion in one kind is to receive both. Although not “needed” under regular conditions, this doctrine remains a comfort to those who are unable to receive either the bread or the wine due to poor conditions of health.

In the mid-20th century, the Roman Church also adopted this point of reformation, and the laity there now regularly receive Communion “in both kinds.” It would seem that the issue behind this Article has been concluded.

But now there is trouble from the opposite side: many Protestant traditions have done away with the use of wine in favor of non-alcoholic grape juice. A small minority of them do this under the very faulty belief that the “wine” in our Lord’s last supper was not actually alcoholic; their folly in twisting the Scriptures is their own condemnation on this point. The majority of Protestants who forsake Communion wine do so for purely practical reasons: wine is more expensive, no longer considered appropriate for children (although perfectly legal and safe in its miniscule sip), and a stumbling block for alcoholics. Rather than alienate anyone, they elect to alter the Communion element itself.

A primary issue this runs up against is noted here in Article 30: “both the parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all…” The bread and the wine are not mere symbols that can be swapped out for other substitutes at will, but are God-given instruments of his Body and Blood. What Christ has ordained and commanded, man is at peril to alter. The Anglican tradition has stuck to the biblical instruction of Christ: we use wine (or some form of wine like port) in the celebration of Holy Communion. We do not have a definitive authoritative statement banning the use of grape juice outright, such as the Roman Church has, but we take it as sufficient to say that if Christ said wine, we are to use wine, and not to speculate on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of using anything else in its place.

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Article 29: Unworthy for Communion

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 29 states:

XXIX. Of the Wicked which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord’s Supper

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.

This Article, along with the previous one on the Lord’s Supper, has often seen critique from Romans and Lutherans because it smacks of receptionism.  Receptionism is a view that has long been condemned in historic Christian teaching; it takes a relativistic or subjective understanding of Holy Communion: that it only communicates the Body and Blood of Christ to those who worthily receive it, and not to the unworthy.  Receptionism stands in opposition to an objective, real, presence of Christ in the bread and wine.

For the Calvinist (and the majority of early Anglican reformers) receptionism was not a problem because to them Christ is only present spiritually in the meal, not objectively in the bread and wine.  But as the Reformation progressed, significant numbers of churchmen continued to hold a more traditionalist line.  Queen Elizabeth I herself even contested Article 29 at one point.  The settled agreement was to recognize that this Article’s language is sufficiently open-ended to allow for different views.

They key phrase here is that although “the wicked… press with their teeth the Sacrament… yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ.”  This Article does not rule out the objective presence of Christ, but rather, merely that the Sacrament is not magic – eating Holy Communion doesn’t automatically make one a partaker (or member) of Christ.  Rather, the unworthy receiver eats the Sacrament “to their condemnation,” which the Exhortation to Holy Communion in the liturgy also highlights with great emphasis.

What we ought to draw from this Article is two-fold.  First, unworthy reception of Holy Communion increases our condemnation.  We must not presume to go to the Lord’s table trusting in our own righteousness, assuming our own worthiness, expecting cheap grace.  Rather, secondly, we must come to the Table with “lively faith”, as this Article puts it.  This living faith, or active faith, recognizes the reality behind Holy Communion: Jesus, fully God and fully man, the Crucified and Resurrected One, the sacrificial Victim and sacrificing Priest, the central act of atonement by which only we may approach the Almighty.  This is why Saint Paul exhorts us to “judge” ourselves and to “discern the Body” for a worthy reception (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).  This is also why the Prayers of Consecration rehearse the Gospel in such detail – the faith to which we hold will be fresh on our minds and hearts as we approach the Table or Altar of God.

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