Sunday, July 30, 2017

"We are predestined, yet free"

While this Sunday's Gospel readings contain great parables which will likely be the subjects of most sermons today, I would like to draw your attention to the reading from Romans 8:26-39 which contains a problem that will probably not be discussed today, Predestination (vs 28-30 which I have highlighted below),

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, 
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
   we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ 
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The problematic verses have challenged philosophers for generations. The idea of the predestination of the elect is difficult enough without getting into the concept of "double predestination", the predestination of the damned. When one considers God's omniscience and omnipresence along with his eternal nature we can get a glimpse of the problem. God knows what is going to happen to each and every one of us. He knows the bad choices we will make. He knows who will choose to follow Christ and who will reject him, and all of that seems terribly unfair to our modern minds that He would not step in and change our course when we stray particularly when, as Paul teaches, nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Unfair until you remember that he has stepped in. He came and died for all of us once. Who are we to demand that He do it again.

Back in 2012 an article titled CATHOLICISM, CALVINISM AND THE THIRTY-NINE ARTICLES by Fr. Victor E. Novak (link to his blog), a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), appeared on David Virtue's blog which I hope will help us come to grips with this issue.

Article XVII, "Of Predestination and Election," does not say a word about the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination, and ends by saying: "Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally [meaning universally] set forth to us in Holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God." God's promises are general, or universal, not particular and limited to the elect. Anglicanism does not believe that God predestines some men to salvation and others to eternal damnation.
What is the Anglican understanding of Predestination and Election? Anglican theologian Vernon Staley explains it this way: "Predestination does not mean that some souls are fore-ordained to eternal life, and others to eternal death, for there is no purpose of God to bring any man to eternal death. God 'will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.'
"There is a purpose in everything, both in the order of nature and in that of grace. In the order of grace, Predestination corresponds to some extent with Providence in the order of nature. An acorn is naturally predestined to produce an oak, but it may fail to realize that purpose: all acorns do not produce oaks. If it does fail it misses its predestined end. So the soul is predestined to a life of grace and obedience here, leading to a life of glory hereafter; but it may fail, and miss the mark. If the laws which determine the germination and growth of an acorn are observed, the oak will be produced from it. In a like manner if the soul obeys God, and corresponds [cooperates] with his grace, it will come to eternal life. God who calls and elects, also bids us 'to make our calling and election sure'... Everyone is called to, and is capable of salvation, but God alone knows who will 'make their calling and election sure'" (The Catholic Religion, A Manual of Instruction for Members of the Anglican Communion; Vernon Staley, 1893, pp. 317-319).
Calvinists are monergists while Anglicans, like all Catholic Christians, are synergists. Calvinism teaches that grace ravishes the soul and is irresistible, while Anglicanism teaches that grace woos the soul and that man must cooperate freely with God's grace. God always acts first through prevenient grace, but man must cooperate with that grace. We are predestined, yet free.
 Free to choose to follow Him... or not. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Innovation or Return?

I recently had the pleasure of attending a service at an ACNA parish and heard a sermon that was so far removed from what my Episcopalian ears were accustomed to hearing that I kept wondering what would happen if this preacher was to give the same sermon in front of a group of Episcopalians.

Let me summarize his points:
  • The Reformation was a "return" and not an "innovation". 
  • The primacy of Scripture in the Anglican tradition.
  • The roles of tradition and reason in Anglicanism (not the same as the three legged stool Episcopalians teach).
  • Innovation is not derived from Scripture or tradition but from (flawed) human reason.
  • One should apply Scripture, tradition, and reason in that order to answer the question, "Is this an innovation or is it a return?" 
He then proceeded to give us a few examples of ancient and old issues the Church has faced.

Can you guess which examples would have caused an audience of Episcopalians to rend their clothes?

Yep, divorce, cohabitation, same-sex blessings, transgender liturgies, etc. Which were all correctly identified as innovations contrary to scripture and tradition.

The ACNA congregation nodded in agreement.

A congregation of Episcopalians would have turned into,

Or maybe not. A crowd of Episcopalian clergy certainly would have been irate, but a crowd of pewsitters just might have had their ears opened.

Just imagine what effect a steady diet of correct information might have on the Episcopal congo.

Ah, tis but a flight of fancy I know.

But, just imagine...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Fear the Reapers

This Sunday's Gospel lesson from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 continues with another of the parables of Jesus, but unlike two weeks ago, this week churchgoers get to hear Jesus at his sharpest, speaking about the fiery furnace and those who wind up in it with "weeping and gnashing of teeth".
24 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28 He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29 But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ 
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ 37 He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
The Revised Common Lectionary cut out the parable of the mustard seed for some strange reason since it seems both innocuous and enlightening in its description of the kingdom of heaven. I am sure most pewsitters would prefer hearing these words,

31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
33 He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with* three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35 This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet:*
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
 I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’

The typical Episcopalian is never taught to actually fear the reaper. It might be interesting to sample this Sunday's sermons from various Episcopal parishes to see how they handled Matthew 13:40-42. If their preachers glossed over the dangers Jesus so dramatically presented, their sheep would have been given an illusion of safety. The message they have been fed for many years is that there is no Devil and no one has to fear the reaper.

"All our times have come
Here but now they're gone
Seasons don't fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain, we can be like they are
Come on baby, don't fear the reaper
Baby take my hand, don't fear the reaper
We'll be able to fly, don't fear the reaper
Baby I'm your man 
Valentine is done
Here but now they're gone
Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity, Romeo and Juliet
Forty thousand men and women everyday, like Romeo and Juliet
Forty thousand men and women everyday, redefine happiness
Another forty thousand coming everyday, We can be like they are
Come on baby, don't fear the reaper
Baby take my hand, don't fear the reaper
We'll be able to fly, don't fear the reaper
Baby I'm your man 
Love of two is one
Here but now they're gone
Came the last night of sadness
And it was clear she couldn't go on
Then the door was open and the wind appeared
The candles blew then disappeared
The curtains flew then he appeared, saying don't be afraid
Come on baby, and she had no fear
And she ran to him, then they started to fly
They looked backward and said goodbye, she had become like they are
She had taken his hand, she had become like they are
Come on baby, don't fear the reaper" - Blue Oyster Cult 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Who Was The Most Reluctant Convert?

I used to think that I was the most reluctant convert. As a teenager, I fought the Lord, and the Lord won. My struggle lasted seven years, but C.S. Lewis' lasted much longer as I learned this past weekend after attending a play in Charlotte,

This production by Max McLean was much like his earlier excellent dramatizations of "The Screwtape Letters" which I saw in NYC and "The Great Divorce" which I also saw in Charlotte.

In "The Most Reluctant Convert" C.S.Lewis speaks to the audience and relates his early life and upbringing through the time of his conversion which occurred after he was established at Oxford. I found myself relating in some ways to Lewis' struggle, but while he was an intellectual whose private education grounded him in literature, Greek, Latin, and logical discourse, my education was in the American style in which all are forced to study a wide range of subjects: science, mathematics, social studies, English, foreign language,  etc. We excel at creating "masters of none" in American High Schools. Our young folk must look to specialize after they gain admittance to a university, and even then young adults usually have to take required courses that are not in their major field. I have always assumed this is intended to produce a more well-rounded adult. I am not sure that is always desirable. C.S. Lewis turned out okay in spite of or because of his more directed educational experience.

Although Lewis' arguments against Christianity as presented by McLean were not identical to mine (in large part due to our differing upbringings, education, and natures), I found myself relating to the forces influencing the young mind to keep up its opposition to God. No matter what argument an apologist tries on a reluctant, or like Lewis and myself, a combative potential convert, something has to happen to that individual apart from the action of the apologist. Max McLean presented that something using his hands demonstrating Lewis having his heart opened by God. Following that, McLean stated that Lewis did exactly what I did. He got down on his knees and for the first time really prayed, confessing the sins against God and his Word and accepting his forgiveness.

For me, the take home message of the story is that God comes to each of us as individuals, He might use our friends, and He breaks down our defenses in a highly individualized way, using the Gospel, but we always must accept Him on his terms, not ours.

In the course of the play, there was much, much more to chew on, some of which was serious and some of which was presented with a touch of humor. I highly recommend this show to Anglicans and non-Anglicans alike. Indeed, the audience in Charlotte contained a large number of church groups from denominational as well as non-denominational congregations. I believe most attendees were not Anglicans.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

You Can't Hear What Ain't Been Said

You probably didn't hear it if you attend a church which uses the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), but Jesus quoted Isaiah in the verses that got cut from this Sunday's Gospel reading where the prophet accuses the people of being blind and deaf in their ability to perceive God and his directions. Regular visitors to this blog would have spotted the omission in  the RCL selection, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, right away.

First, we will read the passages as they were presented in church today which contained the parable of the sower and its explanation,

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’....
...‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

Now I will admit that it flows nicely once you cut out the missing verses, but look at the challenges contained in the section that got the ax,

Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:“You will indeed listen, but never understand,   and you will indeed look, but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull,   and their ears are hard of hearing,     and they have shut their eyes;     so that they might not look with their eyes,   and listen with their ears,and understand with their heart and turn—   and I would heal them.” But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
Here are some of the challenges that the average preacher will not have to address,

  •  To the average listener, knowledge of the kingdom of heaven has not been given.
  •  From those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
  •  The people are blind, deaf, and can't understand Jesus' message.
  •  The people are not blessed because they have dull hearts, deaf ears, and shut eyes.
  •  All the people need to do is open their eyes and ears to understand and be healed.
  •  The disciples are blessed because they have been open to Jesus' message.
Matthew Henry, in his commentary on this chapter of Matthew, takes up the challenge and preaches the words that most pewsitters in RCL churches will never hear,

That seeing, hearing, and understanding, are necessary to conversion; for God, in working grace, deals with men as men, as rational agents; he draws with the cords of a man, changes the heart by opening the eyes, and turns from the power of Satan unto God, by turning first from darkness to light, (Acts 26:18). 2. All those who are truly converted to God, shall certainly be healed by him. “If they be converted I shall heal them, I shall save them:” so that if sinners perish, it is not to be imputed to God, but to themselves; they foolishly expected to be healed, without being converted. 3. It is just with God to deny his grace to those who have long and often refused the proposals of it, and resisted the power of it. Pharaoh, for a good while, hardened his own heart (Exod. 8:15, 32), and afterwards God hardened it, Matt. 9:12; 10:20. Let us therefore fear, lest by sinning against the divine grace, we sin it away.

While we might try to scrape by with the excuse that, "We never heard about that", in this day and age, there is no excuse. Keeping the Bible shut is just as bad as keeping your eyes shut to the sight of Jesus.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Episcopal Priests Gone Bad

In the current issue of "Episcopal Priests Gone Bad", we have a North Carolina rector cruising through Florida in his Corvette accused of pulling a handgun on someone in an apparent road rage incident.
"William Rian Adams was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon this past July 5th in Martin County.
Adams listed his occupation as a priest at Calvary Episcopal Church in Fletcher, North Carolina.
According to an FHP (Florida Highway Patrol) incident report, Adams was driving a newer model Corvette and attempted a brake check in front of the victim’s Silverado.
As the victims attempted to pass the Corvette, FHP says Adams pointed a semi-automatic hand gun at the victim." MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. (CBS 12)
A look at Calvary Episcopal's web page shows that they are proudly "Welcoming and Affirming". Pointing a gun at another driver is neither welcoming or affirming.

To the uninitiated, "Welcoming and Affirming" means that they are all on board with the LGBT agenda. The consequence of this stance is falling attendance, and as the stats below show, the parish average Sunday attendance has dropped from approximately 210 in 2005 to approximately 140 in 2015.

Such a precipitous decline should be enough to enrage anyone.

Still, it is a good sized parish by TEc standards, and it is doing well enough for the Rector to afford to drive a Corvette.

My advice to anyone visiting this church is to be sure to empty your wallet when the offering plate is passed around because the ushers might be packing heat, and the rector's discretionary fund is going to need more cash.

I wonder, how do they practice passing the peace? 

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Did You Miss Hearing Jesus at His Sharpest This Sunday Morning?

This Sunday's Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) selection for the Gospel reading, Matthew 11:16-19,25-30, provides another example of how the RCL removes verses which the docile Sunday morning sheep might find offensive. First, read the Gospel as most pewsitters heard it,

"‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
   we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’
At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’"
I suspect most preachers will focus on the last verse because it fits with the current trend to picture Jesus as a softie who never threatens people with damnation.

And thanks to the RCL, the Sunday sheep missed Jesus at his sharpest. Just read the omitted text,

"Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum,will you be exalted to heaven?   No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’"
An important part of the Gospel message that churchgoers should be hearing is, "Repent or else", but instead all they hear on a typical summer Sunday is something similar to, "Don't worry, be happy".

Always remember to read the whole Gospel, not just the bits and pieces someone else wants you to hear.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

S.O.S.: Sinking Diocese Grabs Millstone

Okay, imagine you are on a sinking ship. Most of us would be trying to secure all watertight doors, minimize flooding, unload ballast, and prepare the lifeboats. Who in their right mind would want to add more dead weight to the bridge? That would seem to increase the risk of capsizing and taking all hands down to Davy Jones' locker.
"In some stories, evil and wicked sailors who died at sea were locked up in the chest (locker) by Davy Jones and had to spend eternity trapped in there."
Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Diego may be headed in that direction because their diocese is such a sinking ship. Just take a look at the following plot of membership and Sunday attendance from 2005-2015 (source the Episcopal organization's statistics page),

During much of this time period Katharine Jefferts Schori served as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal group (2006-2015), and during her tenure her Episcopal organization shrunk dramatically. At the same time, the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego shepherded approximately 7000 members into lifeboats while their Sunday attendance sank by 3500 souls.

So what is the logical thing for Episcopal San Diegans to do in response? This, of course,

"Katharine Jefferts Schori to be Assisting Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego"

They are so pleased that they released the following statement to the world,

"We are excited to announce the selection of the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori as our assisting bishop. Bishop Jefferts Schori will begin her tenure with us on August 13. She will serve three-quarters time performing episcopal functions such as visitations, confirmations, ordinations, and receptions. She will share with the standing committee the task of providing leadership and vision for the diocese and shall generally perform the functions of a diocesan bishop as delegated to her by the standing committee in its capacity as the ecclesiastical authority during the transition. She will work closely with the executive council as well."

So instead of reaching for a life ring, the sheeple of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego are grasping for a millstone.

They should have signaled the Carpathia with an S.O.S.

I heard a sermon once in which the rector went on and on about how dumb sheep are. I thought then that the rector went overboard, but observing the sheer stupidity of the sheeple of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, I see that he was right.

Or maybe that one needs to be re-written as "All we like lemmings".

Wallace Hartley where are you when I need you? 

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Slaves of Righteousness

This Sunday's Epistle reading is from Romans 6:12-23. In it, Paul reasons that even though we are saved and no longer under "the law", we are slaves of righteousness and therefore should not fall to the temptation of sin.

"Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Alas, I think we are still slaves of sin. This should make us desire all the more to serve Christ as slaves of righteousness, and it should make us all the more grateful for his tender mercy.

Or as Paul goes on to conclude in Romans 7:24-25,

"Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin."