Tag Archives: Anglicanism

Empty Spaces

Christ is the light of the world, whoever follows him will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life

“I am the light of the world. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

I was offered a free desk yesterday afternoon while I was walking into my building after arriving home from church. I noticed the desk was an L-desk, something I had been looking for for a while, and so I quickly agreed to take it. When I moved my old desk out to make space for my new desk it occurred to me that I had a lot of space to play with. The question before me was, “What will I put in this empty space?”

The season of Trinity in the liturgical year poses the same question to us: “What will we put in this empty space?”  Will we put Christ in it? Will we allow Him to purge from us our sinful and evil ways? Will we do the things He commands us to do? Will we love Him more than the world?

Trinitytide is a season of growth, so let us allow Christ to grow in us, so that everyone may see His glory in us and be drawn into His kingdom. Amen.

 

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Why Squirrels are Better

 

How to be happy: be a dog!

This just in from the stating the obvious department…

While I was still living in FL God provided me with a frequent image to consider: squirrels (don’t laugh! this is going somewhere serious I promise!). You see there is a tree in the backyard of my parent’s house that I would watch the squirrels play in every morning before I did my daily Scripture readings. I would often be jealous of them. They didn’t worry about their jobs, money, or many of the other things that I worried about. They simply ran around the tree chasing each other, gathered material for nests, and (after checking to make sure the dog was inside) hopped down to the ground to search for food. Their lives seemed so simple, happy and worry-free; I wondered why my life had to be so complex, sad, and worrisome.

I’m not sure that I truly learned the lesson God was teaching me back then (actually I’m not sure I’ve truly learned any lesson God has ever taught me), but it’s a lesson I am being taught again as I near the end of another semester of seminary. I even find myself worrying about the same things I did back then! What will I do after seminary? Am I currently pursuing the right path for after graduation? Will I have enough money? Actually I am even worrying about more things! Am I being called to marriage or singleness? Can I personally do ministry without the support of a wife? Will having a wife (and likely kids also) be a detriment to my ministry?

Squirrels have not been my only teachers regarding these concerns, but Scripture also. The Psalms address these concerns in numerous places I believe, but Psalm 95.1-7 has stood out to me in particular:

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Psalm 95.1-7a ESV

These verses recount God’s creation of the world and everything in it, including humans. As a result of this we, along with the rest of creation, should recognize that we not only exist due solely to God’s decision to create, but that we are dependent on Him for our daily sustenance (e.g. food, water).

Jesus explicitly teaches this several times in the New Testament. First in Matthew 6.25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6.25-34 ESV

It doesn’t matter how much money we have or how big our house is, if God doesn’t send the rain to water the crops and fill the rivers and lakes, or the sunshine to grow the crops we won’t be alive for much longer. No matter how fit or healthy we are we will not live a moment longer than God has decided that we should live. So what should we do? God knows that we need food, water, and clothing, and He will give these things to us, just like he does to the birds (and squirrels!). And just like the birds (and squirrels!) are obedient to God and serve Him the way He intends for them, so we also should follow God and be obedient to His teachings and live the life he intends for us, a life of holiness. We should not be anxious about food, water, and clothing.

Jesus again teaches us not be anxious when He is in Martha’s house:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10.38-42 ESV

Martha is busy with all the preparations* for Jesus and His disciples, but how does Jesus describe her? As anxious about many things! A rebuke! It is Mary who Jesus describes as having “chosen the good portion,” which is listening to the words of her God and Savior and following Him, rather than being worried about food and entertaining guests.

Even the Apostles struggled with being anxious! They were once worried that they had no food, even though they had already seen Jesus feed thousands of people with just a few fish and a few loaves of bread:

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Matthew 16.5-12 ESV

But why is it significant that we not worry about these things? Because they are symptomatic of what is in our heart. The passage I quoted above from Matthew 6.25-34 has a parallel account in Luke 12.22-31 and immediately following adds:

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Luke 12.32-34 ESV

I believe one of the fundamentals of the Christian life is to learn to set our hearts and desires on heavenly rewards rather than earthly rewards. This means learning to hear God’s voice and being obedient to what He calls you to do and trusting that He will provide for your needs along the way. The second part of Psalm 95 is instructive regarding this:

Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Psalm 95.7b-11**

God has called us to follow Him and to trust Him to provide for our needs along the way. We should not be worried about whether we will have food, or water, or clothing, or whether we will be married because God knows what we need and will give us what we need. What we should be worried about is whether or not we are being obedient to Him, following Him where He is leading us, and trusting Him to provide for us. If we are not doing this it is a sign that we love the things of the world, such as money or power or prestige, more than the God who made us. It is a sign that Sin is ruling our lives.

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

 

*The word translated “serving” probably refers to the preparations for a social event, such as a meal. See BDAG, διακονία 2.b.

**The incident at Meribah and Massah is found in Exodus 17.1-7 where the Israelites grumbled against Moses and did not trust that God was with them and would provide for their needs on their journey to the land He had promised, even though they had already seen Him provide bread for them from heaven (Exodus 16). Also, Hebrew 3.7-4.13 has an excellent exposition of these verses which I highly recommend reading.

 

Journey to Anglicanism: The Church

Since the Trinity does indeed interweave our world, and through that interweaving incorporates those who believe into himself by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, then the organizing of such people into a community is a logical consequence. This is the basic doctrine of the Church [note the spelling], and was the doctrine that was taught to me growing up.

However, similar to the Trinity, it seemed to be a doctrine that was believed because it was taught in Scripture. Thus, again, Scripture was the basis. In Anglicanism however the Church is the result of the redeeming work of the Trinity.

He can no longer have God for his father, who has not the Church for his mother.
– Cyprian of Carthage, “On the Unity of the Church,” 6.

This statement from Cyprian is, in my opinion, one of the best and most succinct articulations of the nature of the Church, but also one that seems to be greatly misunderstood. I don’t personally know of anyone who has an issue with the first part of the statement which equates the Trinity with fathers. However it seems a great deal of people have an issue with the second part of the statement which equates the Church with mothers and further ties the rejection of the Church to rejection of the Trinity.

To a certain extent I can understand why some would take issue with the second part of the statement. There are some individual churches [note the change in my spelling] whose environments are toxic and kill any chance for the spiritual growth of its members. This could take any number of forms. It could perhaps be a minister who preaches to his congregation to not commit adultery while he himself is having an affair. There could perhaps be a lot of gossiping and spreading of false rumors. Or perhaps when some sin is committed forgiveness and grace are not found, but instead only guilt and shame. Whatever the reasons for the toxicity might be it is not surprising to me that those who are in such church environments end up leaving.

The Church [again, note the spelling] however is not an individual congregation, or even a group of congregations. The Church is the community of the redeemed people of the Trinity, all the redeemed people, from the beginning of time, both in heaven and on earth. So because it is the Trinity who is redeeming this community, rejecting and leaving this community is thus choosing not to be redeemed and amounts to a rejection of the Trinity.

But what is redemption? Essentially it is being removed from the kingdom of evil and freed from being a slave of evil and placed into the kingdom of the Trinity and being made a slave of Christ. The result is that the soul now desires to serve Christ and become like him, instead of desiring to serve and become evil. The soul however does not know how to serve Christ because it has only served evil. Thus it must be guided in how to serve Christ. It is this instructional process that Cyprian is using to describe the relationship between the Trinity, the Church, and the believer. Spiritual birth and growth requires different components. First, the Holy Spirit must indwell a person [this is where the desire to serve Christ comes from], and second that person must be in the Church [this is where the soul is instructed in how to serve Christ]. If either of these components are missing that person will not grow spiritually into Christ-likeness. Neither attending church services without being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, nor being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and not attending church services will result in spiritual growth. Both components must be in place.

In my view then the Church is the community in which spiritual growth can take place. It has always been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and he has given wisdom and insight to everyone who is a member of the Church. It is in the Church where this wisdom is found, both of those who are in heaven as well as those on Earth. In Anglicanism it is found in the hymns, the prayers, the preaching, the daily readings, and the liturgy. All of which exhort, direct, and guide us in our spiritual growth and pursuit of Christ-likeness. They remind us that Christ accomplished forgiveness for all our sins and exhort us to obey his teachings so that we will be like him. It is this community that I found in Anglicanism. Their hymns are sung. Their prayers are read. Their liturgy is performed. Their daily readings are followed. Their wisdom is sought out and found.

Such wisdom and insights were unavailable to me growing up. They weren’t outlawed or forbidden or anything; they were simply not used. The only essential element it seemed was to read and study the Bible. I didn’t need anything more than that, and so I shouldn’t use anything more than that so it seemed the reasoning went. The writings of ancient Christians were just ignored for some reason, as if past generations had no counsel or wisdom relevant to our present age. I don’t know for sure the reasoning behind it, but whatever it was the writings of old dead men and women were rarely, if ever, consulted it seemed.

In the end I suppose you could say that me and these old dead people kind of hit it off from the beginning.

There’s much more I could  say about this topic, but it’s not relevant. The Church certainly exists outside of Anglicanism and there are a number of traditions in which a Christian can grow in Christ-likeness; no Christian tradition has a monopoly on the Trinity.

My semester is currently in progress, so this blog may be going silent for a while. Next up in this series will be the Scriptures. When it will be published however I don’t know.

 

Journey to Anglicanism: The Trinity

Rublev's icon of the Trinity depicts the three visitors to Abraham in Gen 18

Rublev’s icon of the Trinity depicts the three visitors to Abraham in Genesis 18. See here for more information about the icon: http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/lord_trinity_rublev.html

Last year I officially converted to Anglicanism from an ‘Evangelical’ background. This post is the first in a series describing my journey.

One thing that has stood out to me over the course of my seminary studies has been the differences in thought between the early Church Fathers and modern theologians. In modern Evangelical seminary education theology is taught systematically, which means that the whole of Christian theology is divided into separate sub-parts and each topic is discussed individually and independently of the others (usually these parts end in –ology). From the standpoint of an educational methodology this systematization is useful because it makes it easy to discuss the various aspects of the faith without confounding the issue. However I believe that shaping and training the thinking of future ministers by using such a systematic methodology is dangerous because life is not systematized, but interwoven. It is impossible to break life down into various independent sub-parts that never interact with the other parts because each part of life interacts with and influences the other parts.

My faith, as a consequence of this systematic educational methodology had been systematized as well. All the various parts of theology, The Trinity, Salvation, the Church, Man [that is, humanity], Sin, etc had all become separated from one another. As a consequence of this I found it theoretically possible to change doctrine in one area without that change affecting any of the other areas. If I had continued this thought process its ultimate end would likely have been the renunciation of my faith, or at least a redefinition so radical that it would bear no resemblance to traditional orthodox Christianity.

In contrast to this the NT authors and early Church Fathers did not divide their theology into separate categories; everything is interwoven with everything else. This difference gradually became apparent to me during my explorations of Anglicanism as I began to notice that their theologians were not describing things in quite the same manner as the Evangelical theologians I was used to reading. By the time I finished a course on the theology of the early Church where we had the opportunity to read some of the primary source documents from that period the difference in thought between ancient theologians and their modern Evangelical counterparts was definite.

Most recently the consequences of this systematic thinking have become apparent to me regarding the Trinity. My Evangelical upbringing provided me with very little understanding of this doctrine. Sure it was in the doctrinal statement of the churches I grew up in, and believed by the leadership of those churches, but it was rarely mentioned during the services and I failed to see it as a foundational element of the Faith. The foundation of my faith during this time was Scripture and the teachings of Scripture. Unfortunately the Trinity is not explicitly taught in Scripture, but rather is derived from it, thus I did not regard it as foundational to my faith, but rather a consequence of it.

So when I began attending some Anglican services I was surprised that the Trinity was constantly and consistently mentioned during the services. In fact ‘God’ was rarely, if ever, mentioned apart from ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ This difference was striking to me, and I began to ask myself the question, ‘Why is the Trinity mentioned so often?’ After nearly two years I realized that the answer to this question was that the Trinity was foundational to the theology of Anglicanism, a foundation which was not to be found in my theology.

This foundational difference is, I believe, important to realize because Christianity is not based on Scripture, but on the redeeming work of the Trinity. It was the Father who created the world through the co-eternal Son. After we rebelled in the Garden and were driven from the presence of God it was the Son who left the Father in heaven and took on our sinful flesh and reconciled us back to the Father in heaven through his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. After His ascension the Son sent the Spirit from the Father to indwell all who believe. It is this redeeming work of the Trinity, which bridged the chasm created between heaven and earth at the Fall, on which Christianity is based; without this work Christianity is invalid.

The Celtic cross. The knots on the cross represent the interweaving of heaven and earth.

The Celtic cross. The knots on the cross represent the interweaving of heaven and earth.

Our world is thus interwoven by the Trinity and is both redeemed and being redeemed by the Trinity and therefore the Trinity should be the foundation of our faith, not Scripture, because Scripture itself only exists because the of the work of the Holy Spirit inspiring the authors. Scripture witnesses to the Trinity and calls us to Him. It calls us to the recognition that it is He who created heaven and Earth and interweaves them both and shows us how we should live as His creatures.

This last part, how we should live, can be found within His body, the Church, which will be the subject of the next post  in this series.

 

 

 

 

Christianity is Not a Contract!

Diablo 3 - Tyrael

Tyrael of Diablo fame.

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” — C.S. Lewis

A fairly common question I see asked regarding Christianity is, “Is it okay to do _________?” I recently saw such a question posed again and I thought to myself, “Why is this question even being asked? What theological framework allows for such a question to even be asked in the first place?” As I thought about the answer to these questions I realized that to ask if a certain behavior is “okay” is to approach Christianity with the assumption that it is a contract entered into between a person and God, an assumption I believe is invalid.

In a contract two parties agree to fulfill certain responsibilities and it remains in effect as long as the terms of the contract are not breached. Such an approach sets up the expectation that as long as we do not breach the “contract” God will still fulfill His side of the deal and give us a place in heaven. And since we are by nature sinful and evil beings we then try to seek out what the bounds of this contract are; we ask ourselves, “How far can I go? What sort of loopholes can I find that will allow me to do what I want and fulfill my desires without breaching this contract?” It is this mindset I believe that leads to the question, “Is it okay for a Christian to do _________?”

Such a mindset is, I believe, taught nowhere in Scripture. We are taught that we were created by God, in His image, and were commanded to multiply and fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1.26-28). In order to sustain us He gave us the plants and the trees and their fruits (Gen. 1.29) and of the trees the only prohibition was from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and if we did so we would die (Gen. 2.17). So we see that one tree leads to death, while all the others (including the tree of life [Gen. 3.22]) lead to life. Thus we had two ways set before us, one of life and another of death, and we had to walk in one or the other, there were no alternatives. For if we ate of the trees that were allowed, we would live and fill the earth and subdue it; and if we ate of the tree of which eating was prohibited, we would die; and if we had tried to be “neutral” and not eaten of any of the trees we also would have died as we require sustenance by our nature.

Even though we chose the way leading to death, the way to life was not thereby made unavailable to us, for we were prevented from eating from the tree of life, which would have resulted in us living forever in our fallen state (Gen. 3.22). Thus God cast us out of the Garden in order to work the ground from which we were taken (Gen. 3.23-24) in order that we might learn that the way of life was now through repentance and trust (Isa. 30.15).

The Commandments given through Moses were given in order that we might know more clearly which way leads to life and which leads to death. For at the beginning of the list of blessings for following the commandments it is written, “Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 28.1. Or in other words, they would subdue the earth. But concerning the curses it is written, “So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the LORD your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.” – Deuteronomy 28.45. Or in other words they would die.

The New Testament also presents two ways, one of death and another of life, and these two ways are opposed to each other. Representative of this are the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians 5.16-26:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Thus Scripture does not present us with a contract, but with a choice, a choice between two ways, one which leads to life and another which leads to death. In Advent we are called to recognize our sinfulness and repent as we await the coming of our Lord. Let us do this so that when He comes we will be found working as the wise servant and serving others (Matt. 24.45-47) and not as the unwise one and be found exploiting and beating them (Μatt. 24.48-51). Let us continue on the way of life. Let our prayer throughout this Advent season truly be:

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

 

 

What is the Church?

I am the vine; you are the branches.
(John 15:5)

One of the tasks during my first semester here in Dallas has been to find a church home. Since I wasn’t raised in any particular Christian tradition or denomination I’ve also taken this opportunity to evaluate various traditions and denominations with the goal of possibly joining one of them.

Background Info: I grew up in independent churches, all of which were orthodox and Protestant. I have no doctrinal dispute of any significance with any of the churches I attended during my childhood and adolescence. Over time however I became increasingly dissatisfied with these churches. Or to state it metaphorically: I began to feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole (the specific reasons for this are another subject entirely and I won’t go into them in this post).

What is the Church? One of the books I have (finally) started reading as a part of my evaluation of the various Christian traditions and denominations is An Outline of an Anglican Life by Louis Tarsitano (McGrath’s Christian Theology has also been very helpful). In the first chapter Tarsitano presents a view of the Church that I agree with very much and think the rest of Christendom would do well to not merely intellectually assent to, but to actually live their lives, conduct their worship services in light of, and guide their flocks by.

One of the things that breaks my heart about modern Christianity are the divisions that exist within it. While I think that distinct styles of worship and disagreements are inevitable I do not think that these differences should lead to divisions within the Body of Christ so that certain denominations/churches absolutely refuse to work with other denominations/churches in spreading the Gospel.

When divisions go this deep I think the leader of the church has been forgotten, if he was ever acknowledged in the first place. Christ is the head of the church, not a man or a council of men (Ephesians 1.22; 4.15; 5.23; Colossians 1.18). Furthermore Christ is the one who chooses who constitutes the church, not us (John 13.18; 15.16, 19). While most Christians would agree with these statements it seems to me that these statements have little effect on relations between different churches and denominations.

Christ is the vine and we are the branches. There are not multiple vines, but only one: Christ. The branches are connected to the vine and are to bear fruit. If we could truly recognize that this, that Christ is the only vine and the different denominations/traditions are merely branches connected to the vine I think it would go a long way towards achieving the unity that has been lacking for so long within Christendom.