Category : Soteriology
I shall commence by remarking that the gospel which Christ preached was, very plainly, a command. “Repent and believe the gospel.” Our Lord does condescend to reason. Often His ministry graciously acted out the old text, “Come, now, and let us reason together; though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as wool.” He does persuade men by telling and forcible arguments, which should lead them to seek the salvation of their souls. He does invite men and oh, how lovingly He woos them to be wise! “Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He does entreat men. He condescends to become, as it were, a beggar to His own sinful creatures, beseeching them to come to Him. Indeed, He makes this to be the duty of His ministers, “As though God did beseech you by us, we pray you, in Christ’s place, be you reconciled to God.” Yet, remember, though He condescends to reason, to persuade, to invite, and to beseech, still His gospel has in it all the dignity and force of a command; and if we would preach it in these days as Christ did, we must proclaim it as a command from God, attended with a divine sanction, and not to be neglected except at the infinite peril of the soul! When the feast was spread upon the table for the marriage supper, there was an invitation—but it had all the obligation of a command—since those who rejected it were utterly destroyed as despisers of their king! When the builders reject Christ, He becomes a stone of stumbling to “the disobedient.” But how could they disobey if there were no command? The gospel contemplates, I say, invitations, entreaties, and beseeching—but it also takes the higher ground of authority. “Repent and believe,” is as much a command of God as, “You shall not steal.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” has as fully a divine Authority
as, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Think not, O man, that the gospel is a thing left to your option to choose or not! Dream not, O sinners that you may despise the Word from heaven and incur no guilt! Think not that you may neglect it, and no ill consequences shall follow! It is just this neglect and despising of yours which shall fill up the measure of your iniquity. It is this concern for which we cry aloud, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” God commands you to repent! The same God before whom Sinai was moved, and was altogether on a smoke—that same God who proclaimed the law with sound of trumpet, with lightning, and with thunder, speaks to us more gently, but still as divinely, through His only begottenSon, when He says to us, “Repent and believe the gospel.”
Read it all (quoted by yours truly in the morning sermon).
Johnny Cash recorded “At Folsom Prison” 50 years ago, on Jan. 13, 1968. The live album transcended the usual categories of popular music and ultimately sold more than three million copies. Cash’s willingness to play for a crowd of convicts fit with his outlaw image, but the venue choice reveals something crucial about his Christian beliefs.
Raised in Dyess, Ark., Cash became a Christian in 1944, when he was 12. Throughout his life, he showed an ardent desire to live according to the Gospels. But Cash was no paragon of Christian virtue. Stardom and the demands of his profession, especially the relentless travel, presented him with countless temptations. He could not resist many of them.
Cash’s struggle became particularly acute in the 1960s. He dealt with drug addiction and marital breakdown, and several brushes with the law only made his situation worse. While this drama hurt his career, it also gave Cash an acute sense of his vulnerabilities and enabled him to empathize with the prisoners in Folsom, Calif. As Robert Hilburn noted in his 2013 biography, “Cash knew what it was like to be in jail, to stand before his loved ones in handcuffs, and to walk through the seedy parts of town in search of drugs.”
Cash saw the Folsom concert as an opportunity to redeem himself.
— Daniel Darling (@dandarling) January 13, 2018
Rob Sturdy’s sermon (from this Morning) on the Baptism of Jesus: How exactly does the Trinity unsin us (Mark 1:4-11)?
— Kendall Harmon (@KendallHarmon6) January 7, 2018
You may read more about Rob’s ministry there.
Mrs Lorna Ashworth, an evangelical member of General Synod and a member of the Archbishops’ Council, resigned yesterday, saying that she was “no longer willing to sit around the table, pretending that we, as a governing body of the Church of England, are having legitimate conversations about mission.”
As she said in July, in what will now be her final speech at General Synod,
“as a corporate body we have become unable to articulate the saving message of Jesus Christ which fully encompasses the reality of sin, repentance and forgiveness – without this message we do not teach a true gospel and people do not get saved.”
In her resignation letter she blamed, “an ongoing and rapid erosion of faithfulness” and “an agenda of revisionism which “is masked in the language of so-called ‘good disagreement,’” for her decision. She is not alone in her concerns, and she said that many were calling on the bishops of the Church of England to offer clear and courageous biblical leadership.
Lorna Ashworth has been a member of General Synod for 12 years and was elected by the Synod as a lay representative on the Archbishops Council two years ago.
Among the saddest media moments of the last decade was the public self-destruction of Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who made international headlines in 2013 for his public drunkenness, lewd behavior, and, later, videos of him smoking crack appearing on YouTube. He quickly became fodder for Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show. He was an (embarrassing) topic of water cooler conversation for months. And the whole time, his family stood by him, denying that he was in any real danger.
“Robbie’s not a drug addict,” his sister, Kathy, told reporters. “If you want to consider binge drinking once every three months and you get totally plastered, which he just makes a fool out of himself…fine.”
We laugh at men like Ford, who died of cancer in 2016. I suppose we turn people like him into a perverse form of entertainment because it’s too painful to do otherwise. But we can’t run from it, anymore than we can ignore it when a squeaky clean teen idol changes her image to prosti-tot at exactly 12:01 am on her 18th birthday.
We’re not really any different. We are all prone to pretend that sin is something other than what it is….
Twenty-three years ago, when I was in my first pastoral appointment, there was an 11-year-old boy who started coming to my church at the suggestion of a teacher at his middle school. He was an isolated, disconsolate figure who didn’t mix easily and took a greedy share of the cookies after worship. After he had been coming a few months, funds were found for him to participate in a parish weekend retreat.
By Saturday morning, the complaints were raining down. He was rude. He was grabbing food. He was bullying the younger children. The adults finally had to talk to each other about it; it was one of those parish conversations where the pastor doesn’t get a casting vote. The teacher through whose influence the boy had first come to church pointed out that, being brought up solely by his young and temperamental father, he was a troubled boy looking for security. Allowances were made, patience was maintained, and gradually the lad began to find his feet.
Nine months later at a special evening service he was baptized. His father was not there. His mother and brother, living across town, weren’t there either. But about 40 people were, and each member of the congregation was invited to describe what they most valued about being members of that church. One said friendship, another said acceptance, a third said trust. When the boy was asked the same question his narrow, fixed frown broke, for once, into a smile, and he replied, “You didn’t throw me out after that weekend.”
O heir of heaven, lift now thine eye, and behold the scenes of suffering through which thy Lord passed for thy sake! Come in the moonlight, and stand between those olives; see him sweat great drops of blood. Go from that garden, and follow him to Pilate’s bar. See your Matter subjected to the grossest and filthiest insult; gaze upon the face of spotless beauty defiled with the spittle of soldiers; see his head pierced with thorns; mark his back, all rent, and torn, and scarred, and bruised, and bleeding beneath the terrible lash. And O Christian, see him die! Go and stand where his mother stood, and hear him say to thee, “Man, behold thy Saviour!” Come thou to-night, and stand where John stood; hear him cry, “I thirst,” and find thyself unable either to assuage his griefs or to comprehend their bitterness. Then, when thou hast wept there, lift thine hand, and cry, “Revenge!” Bring out the traitors; where are they? And when your sins are brought forth as the murderers of Christ, let no death be too painful for them; though it should involve the cutting off of right arms, or the quenching of right eyes, and putting out their light for ever; do it! For if these murderers murdered Christ, then let them die. Die terribly they may, but die they must. Oh! that God the Holy Ghost would teach you that first lesson, my brethren, the boundless wickedness of sin, for Christ had to lay down his life before your sin could be wiped away.
— Kendall Harmon (@KendallHarmon6) September 14, 2016
I have to confess surprise and disappointment over most of the discussion about cremation in today’s church. As someone who speaks in churches on the whole topic of God’s final and complete arrangements with us (eschatology), it is a subject which I raise with some regularity, and it often produces some of the largest response. At a MINIMUM my plea, to follow Paul in Romans, is for each person to make up his or her own mind. In other words, think it through. What I regularly find with contemporary Christians is that they have no problem with cremation, but when I raise objections they cannot answer them. So please understand that I am writing this to encourage you think against me in the body of Christ. Cremation is a matter on which Christians differ with one another, but that difference is to be an encouragement to us to think more deeply about the subject. (I just wrote “we will gladly do the burial either way” and then I looked at it a long time and realized that “gladly” might be misconstrued! We will surely do your burial no matter what you decide).
Often the cremation question is formulated backwards. The question should be why should Christians do anything other than bodily burial? I wish to press this question by noting that it can be shown that as secularization increases, cremation increases. This ought at least to give us pause.
Bodily Burial should be preferred for at least three reasons. (1) Bodily burial best allows for honest grief. This is the least important reason, but it matters a lot in our culture which for the most part STILL lives into Ernest Becker’s book title THE DENIAL OF DEATH. In such a culture, it is all the more important to enable people honestly to face up to the reality of death. The whole practice of the “death industry” is in the other direction.
Think about it. A coffin looks like a person–the same size, etc. When it is lifted it FEELS like a person, and the weightiness suggests the weight of the gift of life God gave. When it is lowered into the ground it feels like we are burying a person-same weight, height, etc. Cremation takes us away from these things–an urn is not the same size or weight as a person, etc. Also, the whole symbolism of the pall (the white linen cloth placed over the coffin) as the resurrection body is altogether lost without a coffin.
(2) The whole symbolism of cremation is exactly backwards. Christians believe in bodily resurrection. They should therefore respect the body in every possible way–how does cremation achieve this? The images for hell are: destruction, punishment, and exclusion. Fire is a key element of the scriptural teaching (there is no evidence, by the way, for Gehenna as a garbage dump, as is continually alleged in the literature). If you say a prayer over a body in an English Crematorium as my doctoral supervisor Geoffrey Rowell did, you actually look into the fire as the body is disposed of. LOOKING INTO THE FIRE? What kind of symbol for resurrection is that?
In contrast, in bodily burial, we look to the Lord, we look to the future, and we confess our faith in God who will make a new heaven and a new earth.
(3) The whole structure of Christian theology ought to challenge us here as well. Creation-fall-redemption-glorification is a profoundly earth-affirming and bodily faith structure. We were made of the earth and given bodies in creation, Christ took on full-bodiedness in the incarnation and was fully bodily resurrected, and we await one day our new and glorified bodies. Certainly our belief in the resurrection of the body is a factor here, but there is more: the whole sacramental approach to life and faith is in view. Bodily Burial is an affirmation of our bodily creation, an affirmation of our bodily redemption, and a proper anticipation of our bodily glorification.
By the way, does anyone have a guess as to why most americans choose cremation? I find it often comes down to money. Cremation is usually less expensive. This speaks volumes about our culture.
We are not to be conformed to the spirit of this world. Apart from compelling reasons to the contrary, why should we depart from the norm of Christian practice through the centuries? The ball is in the court of those who wish to defend cremation, not the other way around.
–Dr. Kendall S. Harmon is Canon Theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina and convenor of this blog
1.) “From Jesus’ youth, indeed even from his birth, the cross cast its shadow ahead of him. His death was central to his mission. Moreover, the church has always recognized this.” (pg. 23)
2.) “The fact that a cross became the Christian symbol, and that Christians stubbornly refused, in spite of the ridicule, to discard it in favor of something less offensive, can have only on explanation. It means that the centrality of the cross originated in the mind of Jesus himself. It was out of loyalty to him that his followers clung so doggedly to this sign.” (pg. 31)
3.) “God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate. He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins. It is what we deserved. But he did not. Because he loved us, he came after us in Christ. He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where he bore our sins, guilt, judgement and death. It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that.” (pg. 85)
4.) “The essential background to the cross, therefore, is a balanced understanding of the gravity of sin and the majesty of God. If we diminish either, we thereby diminish the cross.” (pg. 111)
In this tomb, also, you may see, A pledge to us…Yes, verily, it is a pledge,
Of Christ’s power to raise us to a spiritual life -The resurrection of Christ is set forth in the Scriptures as a pattern of that which is to be accomplished in all his followers; and by the very same power too, that effected that. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul draws the parallel with a minuteness and accuracy that are truly astonishing. He prays for them, that they may know what is the exceeding greatness of God’s power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.” And then he says, concerning them, “God, who is rich in mercy, of his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us usi together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus^” Here, I say, you see Christ dead, quickened, raised, and seated in glory; and his believing people quickened from their death in sins, and raised with him, and seated too with him in the highest heavens. The same thing is stated also, and the same parallel is drawn in the Epistle to the Romans ; where it is said, “We are buried with Christ by baptism into death; that, like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” But can this be effected in us ? I answer, Behold the tomb ! Who raised the Lord Jesus? He himself said, ” I have power to lay down my life, and power to take it up again….”
–Horae homileticae, Sermon 1414
For those in the 21st century searching for meaning and purpose in life, Reformation Anglicanism’s commitment to the timeless wisdom of apostolic teaching gives them a solid rock on which to stand.
For those searching for a sense of historical continuity, Reformation Anglicanism offers a community close ties to the ancient church as expressed in its faithfulness to Scripture, the Creeds, and the first four Councils.
For those who make the needs of others a top priority, Reformation Anglicanism’s focus on mission encourages what God has already put on their hearts.
For those looking to be sustained by inspiring, systematic, Scripture-shaped worship, Reformation Anglicanism’s liturgical heritage offers perhaps the best model for proclaiming the gospel of grace and gratitude with ancient beauty and contemporary sensitivity.
“The heart of the earth has accepted and received the Son of God; and it is from a womb so consecrated, this womb of the ‘hellish’ depths of human existence, that the saved creature rises up. Not just (not even temporarily) in the Son alone. It is not that he alone descended and so rose again as victor because death could not hold him captive. ‘Even now’ he is not the firstborn among the dead in the sense that he is even now the only human being to have found the complete fulfillment of his whole human reality. . . . the Son of Man ‘cannot’ have risen alone. What, we may ask, is really to be understood by his glorified bodily condition (if we take it seriously, and don’t spiritualize it into another way of talking about his eternal ‘communion with God’) right up to the ‘Last Day’, if meanwhile it should persist all by itself—something which is precisely unthinkable for the bodily condition (though glorified)? So when we find in Mt 27:52 s. that other bodies too, those of saints, rose up with him (indeed even ‘appeared’—as he himself did—to show that the end of the ages has already come upon us), this is merely positive evidence from Scripture for what we would have expected anyway, if definitive salvation has already been unshakably founded, death conquered, and a man, for whom it is never good to be alone, has entered upon the fulfillment of his whole being. Hence to try to set aside this testimony from Matthew as a ‘mythological’ intrusion, or to argue away its eschatological meaning with ingenious evasions—such as that it is merely a matter of a temporary resurrection or even of ‘phantom bodies’—would not be in accord with the authoritative voice of Scripture. It is a fact that by far the greater part of the Fathers and the theologians, right up to the present day, have firmly maintained the eschatological interpretation of the text as the only one possible from the exegetical point of view.”
— Mordecai (@MenschOhneMusil) April 15, 2017
This ultimate solidarity is the final point and the goal of that first ‘descent,’ so clearly described in the Scriptures, into a ‘lower world’ which, with Augustine, can already be characterised, by way of contrast with heaven, as infernum. Thomas Aquinas will echo Augustine here. For him, the necessity whereby Christ had to go down to Hades lies not in some insufficiency of the suffering endured on the Cross but in the fact that Christ has assumed all the defectus of sinners…Now the penalty which the sin of man brought on was not only the death of the body. It was also a penalty affected the soul, for sinning was also the soul’s work, and the soul paid the price in being deprived of the vision of God. As yet unexpiated, it followed that all human beings who lived before the coming of Christ, even the holy ancestors, descended into the infernum. And so, in order to assume the entire penalty imposed upon sinners, Christ willed not only to die, but to go down, in his soul, ad infernum. As early as the Fathers of the second century, this act of sharing constituted the term and aim of the Incarnation. The ‘terrors of death’ into which Jesus himself falls are only dispelled when the Father raises him again…He insists on his own grounding principle, namely, that only what has been endured is healed and saved.
That the Redeemer is solidarity with the dead, or, better, with this death which makes of the dead, for the first time, dead human beings in all reality- this is the final consequence of the redemptive mission he has received from the Father. His being with the dead is an existence at the utmost pitch of obedience, and because the One thus obedient is the dead Christ, it constitutes the ‘obedience of a corpse’ (the phrase is Francis of Assisi’s) of a theologically unique kind. By it Christ takes the existential measure of everything that is sheerly contrary to God, of the entire object of the divine eschatological judgment, which here is grasped in that event in which it is ‘cast down’ (hormemati blethesetai, Apocalypse 18, 21; John 12; Matthew 22, 13). But at the same time, this happening gives the measure of the Father’s mission in all its amplitude: the ‘exploration’ of Hell is an event of the (economic) Trinity…This vision of chaos by the God-man has become for us the condition of our vision of Divinity. His exploration of the ultimate depths has transformed what was a prison into a way.
––Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter [emphasis mine]