Sunday, February 16, 2014

Is Pulling One's Punches Part of Reconciliation?

In today's lectionary readings we heard several messages about God's commandments, and how wonderful it would be to follow them,
Happy are those whose way is blameless,
   who walk in the law of the Lord.
Happy are those who keep his decrees,
   who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
   but walk in his ways.
You have commanded your precepts
   to be kept diligently.
O that my ways may be steadfast
   in keeping your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame,
   having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
I will praise you with an upright heart,
   when I learn your righteous ordinances.
I wil
l observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me. Psalm 119:1-8 
and that it is a free will choice kind of thing in,
Sirach 15:15-20
If you choose, you can keep the commandments,
and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.
He has placed before you fire and water;
stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.
Before each person are life and death,
and whichever one chooses will be given.
For great is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power and sees everything;
his eyes are on those who fear him,
and he knows every human action.
He has not commanded anyone to be wicked,
and he has not given anyone permission to sin.
and in Jesus' clarification of the commandments in Matthew 5:21-37 we see how difficult it is to follow the commandments perfectly or for our righteousness to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (last week's lesson Matthew 5:13-20),
‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
‘It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
‘Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one. 

Matthew 5:21-37
In her sermon today, the Diocese's new Canon of Christian Formation focused on the subject of Christian reconciliation as revealed in Matthew 5 and in her work in youth ministry when she had to deal with teenage drama queens in Youth Group.

In so doing, I think much of the punch was pulled from the Gospel text, and I was left without the body blows to my feelings of self righteousness that Jesus is attempting to beat out of me. How can I be reconciled to the Lord when I am not taught that I need to be?

Must our newly ordained clergy follow in the footsteps of the last generation of Episcopal preachers and shy away from any mention of Hell, or of the consequences of Sin, or of our utter inability to abide by the depth of God's commandments? How hard is it to give wise counsel to the person who sees in these lessons their own lustful, wandering eyes, or to answer the one who is divorced and facing the fact that in God's eye, remarriage would be adultery? How hard is it to preach on the subject of our universal guilt and the need for repentance as well as reconciliation?

How lovely indeed it would be to be blameless and to walk in the law of the Lord (Psalm 119) or to choose to keep the commandments (Sirach). Is it even possible?

Jonathan Edwards was right, we are sinners in the hands of an angry God. Alas, Edwards' generation of preachers is gone.

How can two Christians be reconciled to one another if they do not both understand the simple fact that they are both sinners and in desperate, desperate need of a Savior? After one Christian has redefined God's commandments so that what was considered to be a sexual sin has now become a blessing from God, how can they be reconciled with a Christian whose says, "No, no, you can't change that"?

Is the former still a Christian?

Is the latter responding in a Christian manner?

The Christian who has abandoned the Apostles' teachings as regards sexual sin is in danger of being labeled a non-christian by the other, and therefore reconciliation is not possible until repentance and renunciation of whichever teaching proves to be false occurs.

Unfortunately, in the Episcopal church, in the Bishop of Upper South Carolina, and in the Church of England through the words of Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canturbury, we see a concerted effort to pull the punches from Christ's warnings of the dangers of sexual sin, and we are being asked to reconcile with teachers of a false Gospel which claims that what was once sinful is now blessed.

The ultimate question of Christian reconciliation as regards to specific issues of Gospel importance seems to be whether or not the adherents of one particular view have slipped into non-christian thinking, for if they have, then we are no longer dealing with a question of reconciliation and conversation, but instead it becomes a question of conversion.

When delivering the Gospel to the congregation, please pull no punches lest we not see the urgent need for reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in Christ. When delivering the Gospel to the non-christian, please pull no punches for you are not doing them any favors by soft selling the message of repentance and salvation. When working the work of reconciliation between warring factions in the Church, if you see heresy, punch it in the mouth!  


  1. Pewster,
    I think the whole biblical idea of seeking unity and avoiding factionalism has been replaced by what ++Welby now calls "Good disagreement". I think at least one revisionist called it, "Living into the tension". There is a saying that the way to hell is paved with good intentions. TEC changed that with the 1979 BCP. The way away from hell (toward annihilationism) was paved by the catechism.

    1. Do they even teach the Catechism in the Episcopal church these days? It has been so long since we have had a confirmation service that I can hardly remember. The 1979 Catechism is quite different from the 1928 version I grew up with. One fine example is the following:

      Question; What is our duty to our neighbors?
      Answer: To use our bodily desires as God intended;

      Question. What is thy duty towards thy Neighbour?

      Answer: To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity...

      As far as Hell goes, the 1979 Catechism gives the following instruction,

      Q. What do we mean by heaven and hell?
      A. By heaven, we mean eternal life in our enjoyment of God;
      by hell, we mean eternal death in our rejection of God.

      What has ACNA's new Catechism done to rectify the problems with the 1979 BCP Catechism, and what does that mean in practical terms? Since the Catechism is rarely taught in TEc churches because open communion (of the unbaptized) and the elimination of the requirement for confirmation to hold church offices (at least in my parish) have pretty much removed the Catechism from corporate wisdom, how will ACNA reintroduce this to the people?