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Category : Theology: Salvation (Soteriology)
Kendall Harmon’s Sunday Sermon from Saint Michael’s, Charleston–What is the Gospel (John 3, Ephesians 2)?
Watch it all.
Richard Peers–A Better Story: thinking about the Church of England Evangelical Council’s “Gospel, Church and Marriage – Preserving Apostolic Faith and Life”
The first thing to note about the document is that is is graciously written and utterly immersed in Scripture. The vocabulary is profoundly Christian. I think that there is a lesson to be learned by those seeking a more inclusive approach. It would be hard to imagine language such as ‘submission’ and placing ourselves under the ‘rule of Christ’ among those seeking to be more inclusive. Yet there is no reason that it shouldn’t. Radical inclusion will only be truly Christian if it is so because it is the will of God, if it is what Jesus calls us to.
The statement recognises that we are fallen and in need of salvation. “The Gospel shines into the darkness of our fallen hearts and cultures, and gives us the transforming knowledge of God’s mercy and grace in the face of Jesus Christ.” It recognises that we are called “away from idolatry, injustice and immorality”. I think this is so important. One of the things that has shocked me in recent months is descriptions I have read of Love Island. A programme that not only encourages casual sex but publicises it. We all know that pornography is too easily accessible and read horror stories of the number of young people watching it. In one school I worked in a colleague had to try and identify the six Year 10 boys filmed while a female pupil performed oral sex on them in turn. The world so desperately needs “the life-changing goodness of [Christ’s] ‘amazing grace’”.
There is a strong and deeply biblical section on grace, and a wonderful sentence reminding us that “In establishing Christian communities the apostles … did not teach doctrine without discipleship, faith without formation, or grace without godliness.” We talk a lot of discipleship. With my educational preference for teaching that is knowledge based, rather than simply experiential, I value this call to link discipleship with doctrine, formation and godliness. We don’t talk nearly enough about how our lifestyles should be different because we are Christians.
The next section highlights the special gifts of marriage and singleness. The marriage section is strong, as we might expect, but could have been more. Working with young people I have always struggled to know how to promote marriage as a vocation. So many young people have no direct experience of lifelong marriage in any members of their family or friends. It is hard to praise marriage without sounding critical of their own families.
It is the section on singleness that I think is stronger, Again, this is desperately needed in a culture which imagines that to be a single is a failure.
To say that we need to stop talking about sex and start talking about Jesus makes two big errors.
First, it undervalues the power of sexual transgression to damage us as human beings and to damage our relationship with God. Our sexual instincts are so powerful and so central to our lives that they are integral to our personal identity. When we misuse our body by abandoning God’s instructions, it helps corrupt our self-understanding. It is actually cruel.
Furthermore, when we turn away from the living God, we replace him by the worship of idols. Again, this worship is often expressed and accompanied by sexual licence. Indeed we are living at a time when sexual permissiveness is the norm and there is no fear of God.
Second, it means that we cannot adequately summons people to repentance. Without the call to repentance there is no gospel. The great sin from which we need to repent is pride – lives directed by ourselves. But this great sin exhibits itself in idolatry, and idolatry often expresses itself in sexual sin as well as the horrors of greed and injustice and lack of love.
John Yates III tells the story of how the English reformers, especially Thomas Cranmer, thought through this problem of authority in the third chapter of Reformation Anglicanism: A Vision for Today’s Global Communion (Crossway, 2017). They concluded that Scripture is sufficient for understanding how to be saved and that it teaches clearly that God alone can wake us up out of our sin. We are helpless until God comes to us.
On the question of authority, Anglicans have sometimes used what they claimed to be Richard Hooker’s image of a three-legged stool whose legs are Scripture, reason, and tradition (see Hooker’s portrait above). While liberal Anglicans have suggested that Hooker’s three legs were of equal length, Yates points out that Ashley Null’s image of a garden shows otherwise:
“[I]t is far more accurate to speak of Scripture as a garden bed in which reason and tradition are tools used to tend the soil, unlock its nutrients and bring forth the beauty within it.”
This, say Yates and Null, shows the role which Anglican reformers Cranmer and Hooker gave to Scripture. In Yates’ words, Scripture for them was sufficient, powerful, satisfying, and authoritative. It “has the power, in the hands of the Spirit, to reconfigure our hardware, not just our software. . . . Regular exposure to scripture works to change our most basic desires.”
Many today remember Bonhoeffer for his radical Christian discipleship and sacrificial involvement in the German resistance movement against Hitler. However, few know him for what he believed was most central to his life and ministry: nourishing the body of Christ through the proclamation of the Word. Bonhoeffer cared deeply for the spiritual life and health of the local church, serving in various pastoral roles in Germany, Spain, England, and America. He even wrote his doctoral thesis—Sanctorum Communio—on the church as a holy community.
David Frost–The Influence of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer on the Orthodox: Opening a Can of Worms?
You will recognize it, though my quotation is in fact from an internet version of that Orthodox ‘Western Rite’, The Liturgy of Saint Tikhon. The passage appears in THE COMMUNION DEVOTIONS as a congregational response to the priest’s invitation to ‘draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.’
R. Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all men; we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which wefrom time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed,against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A side of me still thrills to that. Brought up in a guilt-culture, I still want to binge on selfabasement,followed by the ‘high’ of unmerited, almost magical release. But long before Ibecame Orthodox, I began to have doubts, especially in an Anglican parish thatencouraged frequent communion. How could the sacrifice of Christ be failing to createthat serving and pleasing of God in ‘newness of life’ for which I pleaded each Sunday?Why did I have to come back week after week, making the same old complaints of badmemories and intolerable burdens? When would I, ‘reflecting as in a mirror the glory ofthe Lord’, be ‘transformed’ (as St Paul said happened to all Christians) ‘into the same image from glory to glory’ (2 Corinthians 3: 18 in the Revised Version)?
Returning to my difficulties in reciting the ‘Jesus Prayer’, I realized that phrases in it –‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ – had unconsciously triggeredthat image of the wrathful monarch and his princeling son, whose royal dignity andhonour I had offended since childhood, ‘provoking most justly’ their ‘wrath andindignation against me’. Immediately, as from behind a cloud, the Lordship of Christ revealed itself simply as leadership: of the leader I loved and whose commands I sought to obey because I loved him. Any plea for his ‘mercy’ became an asking for the immeasurable benefits of his grace and for his sympathetic understanding of my shortcomings, together with my acceptance of his generous offer of transformation and new life. And as for the last phrase about ‘me, a sinner’, that was just an obvious statement of fact. I’ve been able to use the prayer ever since.
The Gospel is not that Jesus Christ comes to earth, tells us how to live, we live a good life and then God owes us blessing. The Gospel is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died””so when we believe in Him, we live a life of grateful joy for Him. If these things didn’t happen, if they’re just parables, what you are saying is that if you try hard enough, God will accept you.
If Jesus didn’t come, the story of Christmas is one more moral paradigm to crush you. If Jesus didn’t come, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere around these Christmas stories that say we need to be sacrificing, we need to be humble, we need to be loving. All that will do is crush you into the ground. Because if it isn’t true that John saw Him, heard Him, felt Him, that Jesus really came to do these things, then Christmas is depressing.
First John 1:3 says, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.” “Fellowship” means that if Jesus Christ has come, if Christmas is true, then we’ve got a basis for a personal relationship with God. God is no longer a remote idea or a force we cower before, but we can know Him personally. He’s become graspable.
Run, John, and work, the law commands,
yet finds me neither feet nor hands,
But sweeter news the gospel brings,
it bids me fly and lends me wings!
My dear brothers and sisters,
Receive Christian greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Saviour and Lord.
As our Christmas celebrations begin, I pray that familiar words, hymns and customs will by God’s grace kindle in our hearts a new sense of wonder and thankfulness for the gift of Emmanuel, God with us.
At Christmas we think of Jesus as the helpless baby lying on a bed of straw. Yet ”˜He is before all things, and in him all things hold together’ (Colossians 1:17) and the Jesus we worship now is not the baby of Bethlehem but the risen Christ glimpsed in the vision of John in the first chapter of Revelation whose face is like the sun in its full brilliance (Revelation 1:16). This is the glorified Jesus who will be revealed to all as Lord, Saviour and Judge at the end of human history.
So if we think of Jesus as Saviour, we must also therefore confess him as Christ the Lord. Here in the Anglican Church of Kenya it is common for preachers to introduce themselves by saying that they have accepted Jesus as their personal Saviour. That is so important. Jesus is indeed a wonderful Saviour, but we must not limit his work just to our personal experience. He is the central figure in all human life and history, whether he is recognised or not, and what marks out the Christian is a life that witnesses now, in word and deed, that Jesus is Christ the Lord. If that is lacking, a personal testimony from the past is empty words.
To confess Jesus as Lord brings hope and strength into the most challenging situations. For example, our neighbours in the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan have shown us what it looks like to witness to Jesus as Lord in the statement issued from their recent House of Bishops meeting.
They are able to sustain hope in continuing to call for peace, unity and love in their two nations despite the trauma of years of suffering and civil war and they courageously call to account those who would rather give children bullets and guns than pencils and paper.
But at the centre of this hope is Jesus, so they also recognise that the church must guard the gospel which alone can bring lasting change to the hearts of men and women. If Jesus is Lord, then he must govern our relationships through his word and the bishops agreed that their Church should break its ties with the Episcopal Church of the Unites States (TEC) following that Church’s decision to change its canons and its liturgy to allow for ”˜gender neutral marriage’. For the same reasons, the Anglican Church of Kenya also affirmed that it was no longer in relationship with TEC at our Provincial Synod earlier this year.
The clarity and courage of these brothers is an encouragement to me as we prepare for the meeting of Primates called by the Archbishop of Canterbury next month (http://gafcon.org/crossroads/). With many others, I long to see our beloved Communion united and its divisions healed, but this must be in a way that truly honours Jesus as Lord and head of his body, the Church. It is easy to be like parents who by false kindness allow their children to follow destructive patterns of behaviour, but we are called to care for the household of God, to guard the gospel of grace and to preach the word ”˜in season and out of season’ (2 Timothy 4:2).
So as we look beyond Christmas to the New Year, let our lives be lived in true devotion to Jesus as Lord. To confess with the first Christians that ”˜Jesus is Lord’ is a comfort and a challenge. It is a comfort because we know that we are under his protection and that as Lord of the Church, he will not let the powers of darkness triumph despite our sin and brokenness. It is a challenge because it is a call to a love for Jesus which is stronger than the love of a comfortable life which leads to compromise and decline.
Finally let us especially keep in our prayers this Christmas those brothers and sisters for whom the confession that Jesus is Christ the Lord can cost even their lives. In some parts of the world Christmas is a time when attacks by extremist movements are most common. Pray that God will protect, provide and give them perseverance and that those of us who are free to gather without fear may take every opportunity we have to make Jesus known as Lord and Saviour.
Last Sunday here in Nairobi thousands of us in All Saints Cathedral sang the great advent hymn ”˜Come thou long expected Jesus’ and may I particularly commend to you the second verse as a prayer to express the desires of our hearts for the Anglican Communion and the witness of all believers in the year ahead:
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
May Christ the Lord, the Prince of Peace, be with you and all you love this Christmas.
–(The Most Rev.) Archbishop Eliud Wabukala is Primate of Kenya and Chairman of the GAFCON Primates Council
“The moral foundation of political economy,” to use Lord Acton’s phrase, rests on the connection of liberty with right, of right with duty, of duty with leisure and delight, and of all with transcendence.
Our most unsettling economic problems are actually not economic but moral””moral ones that cannot be simply passed on from generation to generation. They need to be chosen and internalized by each person in each generation at the risk of deflecting material goods from their proper purposes.
Work likewise is not exclusively for its own sake. Rather work, while being an expression of human dignity and concrete accomplishment, aims at a product, aims at the material wellbeing in which something more than work can happen. The basis of culture, as Josef Pieper wrote in a famous thesis, is not only work but also leisure that lies beyond work. We work in order to have leisure, not the other way around.
The new rector looks forward to helping St. Paul’s, Summerville, press on toward a future that is “biblically-centered, Christ-centered and Holy Spirit driven.”
[Tripp] Jeffords has a passion for biblical discipleship.
“I want everything we do to be according to the Holy Scriptures and what they teach,” he said. “Scripture should be our guidebook for life; instruct the church and direct the faithful on how to live. I believe a lot of the troubles in the church have been because we haven’t been disciples of the scriptures and haven’t allowed them to direct our hearts and lives. When we do that, and listen to Jesus through the scriptures and through our prayer lives, everybody is blessed.”
Jeffords will be formally welcomed as rector during a Sept. 24 service of institution, officiated by the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, the 14th Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.
The United States has perfected the art of convenience. For instance, if we don’t want to get out of our car to order food, no problem. We invented the drive-thru, the most iconic of American institutions, where we can sit in the comfort of our car and order food from an unintelligible talking box as we inhale carbon monoxide from the car in front of us. Convenience has become so omnipresent in American society that it is no longer an amenity but a necessity, even a right. When we are robbed of our convenience, we react as if we are being robbed of our property or life.
Rather than standing against this cultural phenomenon, the church often conforms to it. In an admirable but terribly misguided attempt to reach all people, we succumb to our culture’s veneration of convenience. We cram a Sunday service, that blessed celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ, into a single hour or even less. We go to great lengths to minimize any possible inconvenience to church attendees, and in so doing, we communicate to our people that convenience possesses great value. And American Christians have internalized this notion so completely that nowadays people are downright miffed when church goes beyond its time limits, and they have to miss kickoff or tee time or brunch as a result. Convenience has become king, but not just in American society””in American churches as well.
Yet by its nature, Christianity is inconvenient. The story of the Good Samaritan reminds us what true ministry looks like: it requires that we selflessly sacrifice our time, our safety, our money, and, yes, even our convenience, to serve those who are in need. And what more perfect illustration of inconvenience is there than the Incarnation, that God would leave the perfection of heaven to become a man and walk with us through the mess of our lives, even submitting to the most terrible “inconvenience” of all: the crucifixion. Convenience is nothing less than a heresy that runs contrary to some of the most fundamental aspects of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
A student in one of my online classes asked a great question:
How do I encourage members to reflect and think theologically?”¦. I’m having a hard time coming up with an example of what that would even look like in a church setting. I know it’s important, and I use the practice myself at times, but I can’t figure out how to transfer it to a congregation or group setting. Could anyone offer me some insight?
Her question hints at a phenomenon I’ve observed. Clergy do many things for their own spiritual growth. Some they learned at seminary and retained (amazingly, given how much students forget!) as spiritual formation practices. Other ways they learn at seminars, retreats, continuing education events, during the course of their ministry if they’ve become lifelong learners.
They take these things they have learned, apply it to their own lives to good benefit, then, fail to teach these very things to their church members! There seems to be a failure of “transference of learning” at work, and perhaps some odd hidden assumption that laypersons grow in faith different than clergy! Church members grow in faith the same as clergy: through practices of discipleship. engaging faithfully in those practices that actually help faith grow, and being open to the Spirit to change them.