Thursday, August 21, 2014

Conscience

I saw an interesting survey called something like, "How Pro-life are you?" Inasmuch as I am completely and actively pro-life, I opened the link and began to read the questions. The first question was impossible to answer. It listed four reasons for being pro-life: religious, moral, legal and experiential. We had to select one of the four. I could not choose one.

One may ask me, "But as a priest, should you not say that your reason for being pro-life is religious?" I could say that it is a reason, but to choose either religious conviction or moral conviction, as if they can be separated in the life of a believer, is impossible. To choose between them at all is at best misleading.

The Christian approach to matters of morality cannot be simply due to what is written in the Bible, though it must agree with that and not deviate from it. However, we know that part of the New Covenant is to have the Law of God written on the human heart by the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31f). That is not the same thing as being merely existential in one's approach.

In no way am I saying that a person ought to follow his heart, or "evolve," or any of that trendy sophistry. What I am saying is that the conscience of a Christian must be formed by the Word of God, and that such a conscience is dependent on the grace of God to make it alive. We are not Muslims, and the Bible is not the Koran. The word is not merely external to our consciences, but rather it speaks directly to the human conscience by the Holy Spirit. Therefore it is the grace of God at work in the human heart.

To separate religious consideration from moral consideration is impossible for a believer. It is God who has made our consciences sensitive; and it is giving ear to His word that teaches and forms the conscience intelligently. We cannot choose either religion or morality, dividing them into separate categories, without inflicting serious damage on our own understanding of both.

From "TOUCHSTONE"

It had been a while since I wrote for Touchstone Magazine, but I got around to sending them this article, and I see it is featured on the website.

Thou Shalt Now Covet

Robert Harton Spiritual Evolution & the Myth of Equal Rights
Idid not know the man I was drinking tea with in the parish hall below my office. He had introduced himself as a retired Episcopal priest a few days before, when he'd called for this appointment. He told me then that he was offering something called "coaching," and was asking for referrals from local clergy. At the time of the call I had thought he was running some sort of sports team, but now, over tea, he was telling me what he meant by the word "coaching."


Read more:http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=27-05-016-v#ixzz3B3Htuph6


Friday, August 15, 2014

Reflections on the Prodigal Son (for Trinity IX)

The Gospel. St. Luke xv. 11.
1. We have three characters in this parable, and the most important of them is the father. It is the love of this father that remains the most important lesson. He is shown in such a way as to give us the true picture of God’s impassibility, because his love is constant, never destroyed, never diminished, always present. Because we think of love in strictly emotional terms, that is emotion instead of feeling, we think of changes and reactions as part of what it must be. Not so the love of God. The father in the parable is patient, quick to forgive and completely gracious because nothing changes him.

When the prodigal returns to his father’s house, he finds that the return itself is sufficient for him to receive forgiveness, because the father does not base his love on reaction, or on whims. If we believe that the love of God is based upon how He feels at the present moment, then we do not understand the cross. The forgiveness of sins can be anticipated with hopeful expectation because Jesus Christ died for all of our sins, and “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:2) If we understand that mercy or judgment depend on where we stand, because both were present on the cross, God’s impassibility becomes a great comfort, and His love becomes our certain hope and expectation. 

2. Another character is the elder brother, the one who does not know that he too is a sinner. Neither does he care that his bitterness grieves his father, because, after all, he is right. Right, that is, in that he is correct. If ever we forget that everything we do in Church is all about the Father’s love for sinners (including ourselves), we become the elder brother. In every Holy Communion service we quote Saint Paul in the Comfortable Words: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The elder brother takes many forms, and that includes the forms he takes among people like ourselves. I have been present in services where people seemed more concerned with a performance than they were with worshiping God in spirit and in truth. Infinitely more important than getting all the details right is remembering why we are here to begin with.

Everything we hear from God’s Word, and every sacrament we receive, is all because Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The elder brother is not capable of obeying the words of Saint Paul, “Do the work of an evangelist.” He cannot do this work, because he is so very correct about how unworthy the younger brother is; he would never have sought for his lost brother. And, because of this his heart is far from that of his father. He cannot make merry because joy depends upon love. And, to understand his father he would have to be filled with the love that seeks out, that waits, that forgives and restores.

3. Finally we must consider the prodigal son himself. Anyone who cannot identify with this repentant sinner (including his elder brother) wallows in self-deception because, as the Beloved Disciple wrote: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (I John 1:8-10).” 

In order to learn about sin, I did not really need a textbook in Seminary. All I ever needed was to look in the mirror. Like Count Dracula, some people act as if they are unable to see their own reflection. What is the mirror but the word of God, the perfect Law of liberty that James tells us we must look into? (James 1:22-25) The laver in which the priests cleansed themselves before entering the Holy Place was made of mirrors, all of which helped them to wash. Look into God’s word, and let the truth convict you of your own sins - rather than the sins of that prodigal who left home (and now has the gall to return!).

When I teach people about Confession and Absolution I tell them that they must remember that Christ is the Advocate for us; but we appear before a priest (and the Priest) to make confession as witnesses for the prosecution. Without excuses, without sugar-coating, we must testify against ourselves, and let the love of the Father come through to us by way of this sacrament of Christ’s own priesthood. We must learn to identify with the prodigal son, to be able to say, “I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” “'Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” In other words, spoken through the priest, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in Him, of His great mercy forgive thee thine offences: And by His authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen (Book of Common Prayer 1662)." So too, with the General Confession for  “all who truly turn to him.”

Saint Paul tells us that we are all called to become saints, both in the opening chapter of I Corinthians, and in the opening chapter of Romans. My Roman Catholic mother-in-law once, in 1984, gave me a dose of “nun theology.” Her bad understanding of her Catholic Faith became quite clear when she insisted that regular people, like you and me, could never be like the saints, let alone among the saints: They are “special people who were able to be holy.” This makes them sound like superheroes, bitten by just the right spider so they can shoot webs out of their fingers, or that they can fly because they come from Krypton. On the other hand, I have had Fundamentalist friends who preach that once you “come to Jesus” you are no longer a sinner, but rather you are already a saint. However, what Saint Paul told the Corinthians and the Romans was that they were called to become saints, because holiness of life is a vocation for every Christian.


But, unless we first identify with the prodigal son, we haven’t a snowflake’s chance in “the other place” of becoming saints. Knowing we are called to become saints, but seeing the terrible truth in the mirror of God’s word, we must be willing to appear for the prosecution in order to receive the grace of forgiveness. The joy of sin-forgiven creates charity; and this, in turn, fuels the ability to do the work of an evangelist.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Romans 8:12-17 * Matthew 7:15-21
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves

One of the finest images ever presented in a sermon that I was privileged to hear, was the simple image of drinking seawater. If survivors from a sinking ship are together in a lifeboat, no matter how thirsty they may be, the worst thing they can do is to drink seawater. The salt in each drink adds to thirst, rather than quenching it. Eventually they go mad before dying of dehydration. Each drink adding to the thirst, rather than quenching it, is a good image of addiction; but, at the end of the day it is a picture not only of addictions, but of all sins of the flesh. Each time the flesh is indulged it craves more: "Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied." (Prov. 27:20) Do not drink seawater, and do not try to satisfy lust.  
"Brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." Says today's Epistle. Looking back at the last two weeks, you may recall that this portion of the Epistle to the Church in Rome began with the reality of your new life given to you in the waters of baptism. And, in sharp contradiction to modern heresy taught by that other denomination (the one that embarrasses even the atheists), Baptism is not a license to sin, but the sacrament whereby you have died to sin and come alive with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13,14)

To drink of the Spirit of life in Christ is to find satisfaction that the seawater of sin cannot give. To walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh is to know God "whose service is perfect freedom." To let go the weight of sin, to cut yourself loose from the burden, is the great joy of freedom. It may hurt. Repentance may hurt so badly at first that our Lord compares it to plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand. He is not unaware of the pain it may involve to repent of some sins. He is not unaware of the pain some may feel even as they let go of bitterness and decide to forgive. He is not unaware of the agonies of "cold turkey," whether from real addiction, or from lusts of the eyes and of the flesh, or even "cold turkey" from a wrong romance outside of marriage. The Lord knows that some repentance hurts at first; but afterward it brings peace. Beside which, these sober words must be heard and taken to heart: "for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into Hell." (Matt. 5:29, 30)         
These are things that the false prophets will not say to you. The Lord warns of them, coming in sheep's clothing, looking so very holy and good; but inwardly, he warns us, they are ravening wolves. They court your favor. They do not preach that we should repent and forsake our sins; they aid you only in deadly self-deception, just as enablers help addicts destroy themselves. And, they add to the deceptions and errors of modern society by presenting an image of God who has made no commandments, and who approves of sin, and so needs to forgive nothing.   
As the Prophet Jeremiah wrote:
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD. They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you. For who hath stood in the counsel of the LORD, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it? Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have executed, and till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly. I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings (Jer 23:16-22).”

I read of a startling statistic in The Washington Times in 2009: A full 40 percent of all children born in this country are born out of wedlock, up from 25 percent four years before that. Have we really come to a time when people are so unconcerned about their children that they make no effort to provide stable homes and family life? Yes, we have. And, why not? Children are treated as throw-away objects while they are vulnerable and helpless, still growing in the womb, having no protection of law. This is a sin of our whole country. And, marriage is treated as an experiment, and something that may be redefined by the stroke of legislator's pens and the whims of their votes; as if marriage were man-made rather than ordained of God; and, as if human nature can and should be altered. Indeed, for forty years extreme feminists (both male and female feminists, since many men hold that ideology too) have told us that God made some big mistakes in creating human nature the way He did, and it is their crusade to change it, or destroy it trying to change it. Therefore, innocent children are offered in sacrifice to their god of convenience and egalitarianism, and marriage is offered in sacrifice with the innocents. People in our time increasingly display not only ignorance of the moral Laws of God, but increasingly they display their inability to comprehend morality at all. Sadly, churches are simply going along to get along, and often fail to teach their people what they need to know in order to live. They let them drink the seawater, and make little or no effort to guide them to the water that Christ alone gives; that alone satisfies thirst.        
Yes, these are the things the false prophets will not tell you. They preach a different gospel, not heeding the warning of St. Paul:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. (Gal.1:6-10)

That alarming statistic, that forty percent of American children are born out of wedlock, reveals the failure of the clergy above every other group in modern society. I have come to see that a clergyman may be a false prophet without ever teaching error overtly. All he needs to do, to present another gospel, is to so court your favor that he becomes one who pleases men, and cannot, therefore, be a servant of Christ. In an Anglican context, such a man may enter a pulpit with the intention of watering down the power and the wholesome effect of the Scriptures that are read, and of the Biblical truth that sounds clearly as a trumpet throughout the whole liturgy of Holy Communion. He need merely make it go down, as the song from Mary Poppins says, with "a spoonful of sugar."
I have advised men who study for Holy Orders as follows:

"It is not the duty of the clergy to blunt the sharpness, to soften the hammer, or to quench the fire. Woe to the preacher who protects the people from the word that kills, because he protects them also from being made alive- truly and forever alive. Woe to the preacher who acts as a buffer, deflecting the force of the scriptures to soften the blow, because in protecting from the stroke, he prevents the healing. If his labors in the pulpit amount to a lifetime of standing between the people and the word of God, reducing its effect, taming it and making it polite, presentable and harmless, he will have nothing to show for it in the end but wood, hay and stubble instead of gold, silver and precious stones.       
"It far easier to preach if a man (informed by the Tradition of the Church) will ride the scriptures like a wave, letting them make their own point, and arrive at their own destination. If the passages that have been read speak of life and death, then elaborate on life and death. If they speak of repentance then preach that men should repent. When they encourage faith, proclaim faith. When they warn of Hell and the judgment to come, then blow the trumpet as a faithful watchman on the walls. When they comfort, speak as a pastor who feeds the sheep. Let the meaning of the scriptures be expounded to their full effect, proclaiming from them the truth that affects the eternal destiny of the souls in your care."     
  

The reality is this: The message is the same as always. Repent and believe the Gospel. And, the Gospel is the same Gospel that was preached by the Apostles and that has been taught and "believed always, everywhere and by all." Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day as the scriptures foretold. After his resurrection he was seen by many witnesses. To be saved from sin and death you must repent of your sins and believe this Gospel. Some churches have a new message. We preach the old one, the one that came from the Living God.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

What the Church does

"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." (Acts 2:42)

Recently at a dinner with my wife and some friends who go to a large and very modern church, we listened to them tell of their frustration. They are unhappy, because a large cross, that was the central focus of the "worship space" had been replaced by large video screens. The Sunday services are no longer a time of worship, prayer and preaching, but rather a rock concert. The above verse from the Book of Acts came to mind, and we discussed what needs to take place in church services, as opposed to concerts. 

I read how in Australia, some years ago, one Anglican diocese opened a drive through "church." Someone in a hurry could go to a place similar to a bank deposit drive through, say a few prayers, receive communion (?) and go on his merry way. The "worshiper" need not waste his time on any of the things associated with the experience of a full blown service. Those who treat their church as simply a sacrament factory are just as wrong as the people who call rock concerts "church services." And, frankly, the above verse from the Book of Acts tells us that there is a proper context in which to consecrate and to receive the sacrament.

What does it mean to "continue steadfastly" in those four things we read about above? And, if we are Continuing Anglicans, should not this verse be of particular significance to us? 

The Apostle's Doctrine
Let us begin with "The Apostles' doctrine." We believe in the Apostolic Church. Make no mistake about this: A specific taste for either High or Low Church is not what separates us from the corrupt and apostate Canterbury Communion. In my jurisdiction alone, both High and Low congregations have existed for years. I have had to point out to people that we are not in communion with the Episcopal Church here in America, even if they are calling themselves "Anglo-Catholics," and use that big red Missal. For others, the same might very well apply to Episcopal parishes who call themselves "Evangelicals." As a denomination, the Episcopalians have abandoned the Apostles' doctrine in favor of modern trendy innovations, heresies and immorality in place of God's commandments. Like the rest of the World, they do not know the Lord. They advocate everything from homosexual "marriage" to murdering babies in the womb. They claim that God is still speaking to them.

God is, indeed, still speaking. He speaks whenever we read the Bible, and whenever we teach the Apostles' doctrine. But as there are many wrong answers, indeed an infinite supply of wrong answers, to the question, "What does two plus two equal?" so there are numerous doctrines. Bank tellers and Secret Service agents do not study counterfeit money. They recognize counterfeit money by becoming very familiar with the real thing. We need to study and know the Apostles' doctrine in order to avoid the deceptions of our common enemy. It is the Apostles' doctrine that must be preached from our pulpits, taught to those learning for Confirmation, and always brought to the peoples' remembrance.

Fellowship
Here we have a weakness. Too many people think of Communion as a private thing, just between oneself and God. This is wrong. Although we do not mean to reduce the sacrament to a mere "community meal," we still need to understand what St. Paul clearly teaches in I Corinthians; that Communion is with God and with His Church.

"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." (I Cor. 10:16, 17)

That word that is translated "Communion" is the word κοινωνία (koinōnia). The same exact word is translated "Fellowship" in the verse from Acts (2:42). It is translated "Fellowship" in other parts of the New testament, such as the first chapter of the First Epistle of St. John. Christians who engage in verbal shots fired in anger at one another, who separate from each other at the drop of a hat, and in some cases take each other to court before unbelievers (see I Corinthians chapter 6), must not add to sin to sin by partaking of the holy sacrament of Communion. They need to heed the warning of St. Paul (in I Corinthians chapter 11). They eat and drink damnation to themselves, making a mockery of Communion and of the Body of Christ. Does not our liturgy say the same, in the Invitation to the General Confession? "...and are in love and charity with your neighbors..."

Breaking of Bread
It is clearly evident from the whole context of that  First Epistle to the Corinthians, that the Church is supposed to some together on the Lord's Day and have the Supper of the Lord. We have clear doctrinal beliefs about the Real presence in the Sacrament, and about its sacrificial nature in worship. But, it is also the meal of the New Covenant. Such things as Eucharistic Devotions are meaningless exercises when done by people who violate the κοινωνα (koinōnia) of the Church of the Living God, the Body of Christ.

Prayers
Our sacrifice of worship, thanksgiving, and the offering of prayer, is all connected. Much can be written and taught about prayer. It involves our daily life, it includes our words of worship and praise to God, as well as giving of thanks, supplications and intercessions, all of which are a necessary part of the life of prayer. When a church comes together to pray, we can expect God to answer. Indeed, the Eucharist itself cannot be celebrated without prayer; it is impossible to do so.

We must "Continue steadfastly" in these four things together. When the Church comes together it must be to do these four things as one offering to God, together feeding on His grace. Rock concerts as services and sacrament factories as churches are both equally appalling, and neither of those things is a service of the Church.

The Transfiguration of Christ, Aug. 6

Reposted from 2012

Fr. Laurence Wells  "Bulletin Insert"

Here we are, in the dog days of summer and nearly half way through the long season of Trinity (the “Trinity Trek”), celebrating the mysterious feast of our Lord’s Transfiguration.  That word means a change of appearance and refers to what Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us, that “his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.”  This happened while Jesus was praying by night on a certain mountain, alone with Peter, James and John. 
 
This vision of Christ in glory (which Peter later insisted was no “cunningly devised fable” but an event to which he was an eye-witness) sounds almost like one of the appearances of the Lord after His resurrection.  But all three Synoptic Gospels insist that this took place during the course of His earthly Galilean ministry (just as we celebrate it in the rather dull season of Trinity).
 
One detail which sets this event apart is that all three Evangelists made an unusual effort to date it within the narrative.  Luke says “about eight days after.”  After what, we have to ask.  The preceding event must be important, since the Gospels are mostly vague about the time-sequence of events.
 
The Transfiguration follows, after the interval of a week, upon the critical event of Peter’s great confession, which is the hinge episode of the Gospels, the great turning point of Jesus’ ministry before His Passion.  “Who do men say that I am?  Who do ye say that I am?  Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
 
Now, before they have caught their breath, the outspoken Peter and the two ambitious brothers James and John , who aspired to high position in the king-dom, are allowed to see a vision of exactly Who Jesus Is.  While this is a momentary change in His appearance, it is no change in His person or nature, but a sudden revelation of His deity, as the eternal Son or Word of the Father. 
In this vision He is conversing with two personages of long ago, Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets, the Scriptures of the Old Testament.
 
Peter (who still has some learning to do) devoutly proposes that they build three tabernacles or booths) in which Jesus, Moses and Elijah might be enshrined.  But at that suggestion, Moses and Elijah disappear and Jesus is left alone with His disciples.  The heavenly voice repeats the statement uttered at His baptism: “This is my beloved Son,” but adds the command, “hear Him.” 
 
In Jesus Christ, in His humility and His glory, we see Someone far greater than Moses and Elijah or any other “hero of the faith.” He is unique.  Therefore in His presence we are commanded to hold our tongues, to give up our own religious ideas, and to obey.                                    LKW

Saturday, July 19, 2014