Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Reformation Day

I've been out of town all week but I am back today which is, happily, Reformation Day (I suppose it is also Halloween) . Today is the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the Cathedral Door in Wittenberg Germany, marking the beginning of God's reform of his Church.

Here are two video's to help us celebrate...I love the first one especially:

The Reformation Polka


If that was not quite to your musical tastes here is a Reformation Rap:


Finally, here is a great clip from the movie: Martin Luther


enjoy the day!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Love: The Impossible Law

text: Matthew 22:34-40

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

The question, Matthew tells us, was designed to “test” Jesus (35). It's a question that the Pharisees had debated amongst themselves for years. The Pharisees had identified several different passages they believed summed up the entire bible and various experts among them fought about which one was the greatest. They may have hoped to stump Jesus, get him to stumble over the scriptures, not have a ready passage in mind, or to say something that would reveal an ignorance of the sophisticated sort of theological debates that Pharisees had.

But Jesus answers simply, without hesitation. “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

No stuttering, no hesitation. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5, you can look it up on your own if you like, as the greatest law.

Jesus is the Word of God. All scripture originated with him, it is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16). So when the One who inspired every single word in every single book of the bible identifies one command as the Greatest its a good idea to perk up and attend to what it means.

On the surface the command seems rather easy: Love God.

I do that. I have great affection for God.

I was in a debate with an Episcopal Priest who said the Great Commandment means that as long as you love God you can do anything you want; that Jesus replaced all commands with the Great command and if you follow it then you don't have to worry about following the rest.

In a way he was right. If you love God you can do whatever you want without breaking a command...but he was not right in the way he thought. The Greek word is used for love in this text is "Agape." Most of you know what agape is, but for those of you who don't, let's talk about it.

Most of us use the word love when we are talking about the way we feel about something or someone. We fall in “love”. We “love” friends. We “love” family. We “love” ice cream. We “love” movies. We use “love” in many ways but when we do we're almost always referring to our feelings about something or someone.

Agape does not refer to our feelings. To have agape means to will and act self-sacrificially toward another. If you have agape for someone you see that person's good, welfare, as having priority over your own. Agape may come with affection, but affection is not necessary to it. You can agape someone you don't like. You can, as Jesus commands earlier in Matthew's Gospel, agape your enemies. You can “act” sacrificially toward someone for whom you feel hatred. You can act with agape in every relationship.

When you get married, for example, and you promise to love your spouse, you are not promising to feel love for that person until death do you part. No one can promise to feel a certain way. You promise to agape; to set your wife or husband above yourself and to act in their best interest, even if it means your own sacrifice. Imagine a marriage where that is true.

You can feel agape, but you can't “just” feel agape. Agape requires action. So, from a biblical perspective, the husband who says “I love you” but never spends time with his wife or pitches in around the house or takes interest in what his kids are up to, may feel affection for his wife but he does not love her.

And likewise, the woman who says, “I love you” to her husband but spends time belittling him to her friends, disrespecting him, dishonoring him, undercutting his decisions at home, doing nothing to help make his life a little less stressful does not love, agape, her husband even though she may feel great affection for him. Agape is a love that is defined by action and is manifested in works.

Agape is the love that Jesus says we must have for God, a love that sets him above all things, not just in our affections, but in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Every faculty, every fiber of our being, is to be turned toward God in agape love. We are to will to please him in our hearts and that desire is to bear itself out in such a way that it shapes and defines everything we think, do and say.

And in this way that priest I debated was right. If you love God you can do anything you want. But if you love God you will only want to do what pleases him. Far from erasing the rest of the bible, to Agape God means to treasure his Word and seek with all your might to follow the commands that are there because his word is his self-revelation. He tells us what pleases and displeases him. You cannot agape God without seeking to do those things he desires.

Jesus said precisely this in John 14:16 “If you love me, you'll keep my commands” because obedience to God means making God's will your will and setting those other things you love including yourself beneath your love for him. Agape conforms all things to the will of God and what cannot be conformed or reformed, whatever interferes with holiness, obedience, and his call in your life, you'll want none of it. Instead, you will want him, you will seek him, you will hunger and thirst for his presence and delight in his law, he will be your pearl of great price for which you will be willing to sell everything you have.

When he's on the way to Jerusalem and the crowds have thinned and his disciples think they're going to the glorious crowning of Jesus as victorious messiah, he turns to them and says, if you would be my follower, you must deny yourself and take up your cross (Matt 16:24). We're not going to a coronation but to a crucifixion. If you love me you will follow. He meets a rich man (Matt 19) who asks “what must I do to inherit the kingdom of heaven?” who says, “I've kept all of the commandments since I've been a boy.” Jesus looks at him and loves him and says, give away everything you have and come follow me. Your money is your idol, give it up. He was saying to the man, “Love me with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your strength, and you will have eternal life.” What did the man do? He turns away. He cannot do it.

This is a hard teaching isn't it? It makes me wilt. I can't do it. If to agape God with all my heart, soul and mind, means that God must always be first in my life, and if that is what is required to have eternal life, then I don't know about you, but I'm with the rich man. I'm doomed. I can't do it. I can't even do it for a moment. I don't love God like that. I wish I did, but I don't. I want to but I'm powerless.

It is at this point that we come to the sharp end of the law. You read the psalms, psalm 119 for example, and the psalmist speaks about his love for God's law, that it is sweet as honey, a light to his feet, finer than the finest wine, but when I contemplate this greatest commandment, the one that sums up all the others, I'm overwhelmed with the sense of my own inadequacy. I despair.

But then I remember Romans 3:20.Turn there with me: “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

We're fallen people. God did not give us the ten-commandments in the Garden of Eden because we did not need a law there. We were naturally good. God revealed his law when we fell and he did first of all says Paul, so that we would see who we are and what we need. The law is given first not because God thinks we can meet the bar but because God knows we can't but he also knows that if he doesn't show us we can't we'll think we can. And if we think we can, we'll go through our whole life satisfied that there’s nothing wrong and that while we might have our moods every once in a while, we’re basically decent people and surely God will be pleased with us…and if we think that, we'll never do the one thing we must all do to escape standing before his judgment seat immersed in our sins, which is to repent and fall down and surrender our lives to Christ because Christ did what we cannot do. He, and he alone, fulfills the law. He is righteous, without sin. He loves his Father with his heart, mind and soul and strength.

And when you and I turn to him, despairing of our own ability to do what he commands, he loves you, he agapes you--not just as his creature as before, but as his son or daughter--he takes the burden of your sins off your shoulders.

Turn quickly to 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin [Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” What does that mean? Does Jesus become a sinner in his nature and being for us? No. Jesus is the unblemished Lamb. But on the cross the Father set our sins on the Son. He imputed our sins to Christ and Christ died in our place to pay the eternal consequence for them so that when anyone commits his or her life to Jesus Christ, Paul says, his sins are transferred to Christ and Christ's righteousness, in the same manner, is transferred to the one who believes.

Does that mean that a Christian becomes righteous? Yes, in the same way that Jesus becomes sin. While Jesus is perfectly righteous he is considered a sinner, credited with out sins by the Father and in the same way, God sets Christ's righteousness on all those who believe. He imputes it, so that while we sin, we are considered by God...we are credited with keeping the entire law. I cannot love the Lord my God with all my heart and all my soul, and all my mind, but Jesus can and Jesus did and he did it for me and he did it for you.

The Law of God then, and this Greatest Law especially, is given first to cause you to despair of your own goodness and ability to please God, and then to drive you to Christ and once you are in Christ, you are free from the consequences of sin.

And when you see that, when come to that point, the bitterness of the Law is removed. The sting is taken away. The law no longer stands over you pronouncing your guilt. It becomes beautiful to the eyes. It is a light to your feet and a lamp to your path, sweet as honey from a honeycomb.

And, moreover, Someone comes to live in you Who gives you the power to do what you could not do before. But we will speak of that next Sunday.

end


Sunday, October 26, 2008

New Anglican Minister Ordained in Central New York

Here's an Article from the Syracuse Post Standard on an Anglican Ordination today in Syracuse that I wish I could have attended. Blessings and prayers for Fr. Jeff Altman.

Jeffrey Altman will be ordained an Anglican priest today in a ceremony that reflects Central New York's role in the nationwide growth of a separate Anglican church in the United States.

Altman will lead Sunday services at Westside Anglican Fellowship, a Geddes congregation of about 25 people who began worshipping together after their former congregation, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Syracuse, split from the local Episcopal Diocese. They meet at Syracuse Vineyard Church.

It is one of dozens of breakaway congregations that have started Anglican communities in the five years since the U.S. Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay bishop. FourÕ7AltmanÕ groups from three churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York have split from the 2.2 million-member national Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the 80 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion.

The breakaway groups have aligned themselves with orthodox Anglican branches, most of them in Africa.

Earlier this month, the Diocese of Pittsburgh left the Episcopal Church. The Diocese of San Joaquin, Calif., has also done so, and at least two more dioceses expect to vote to leave the denomination....more

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Great Debate between an Atheist and a Christian

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Spectator regarding a series of debates between Atheist Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion" and Christian apologist John Lennox.

One error on Dr. Dawkins part is his assertion that Anglicans do not believe in Creationism. There are Anglicans all over the spectrum on this question. Personally, I hold to the arguments for Intelligent Design and reject the concept of macro-evolution.

The debate can be viewed here:

http://www.dawkinslennoxdebate.com/

here is the Spectator article:
On Tuesday evening I attended the debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox at Oxford’s Natural History Museum. This was the second public encounter between the two men, but it turned out to be very different from the first. Lennox is the Oxford mathematics professor whose book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? is to my mind an excoriating demolition of Dawkins’s overreach from biology into religion as expressed in his book The God Delusion -- all the more devastating because Lennox attacks him on the basis of science itself. In the first debate, which can be seen on video on this website, Dawkins was badly caught off-balance by Lennox’s argument precisely because, possibly for the first time, he was being challenged on his own chosen scientific ground.

This week’s debate, however, was different because from the off Dawkins moved it onto safer territory– and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said:

A serious case could be made for a deistic God.

This was surely remarkable. Here was the arch-apostle of atheism, whose whole case is based on the assertion that believing in a creator of the universe is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, saying that a serious case can be made for the idea that the universe was brought into being by some kind of purposeful force...more

Friday, October 24, 2008

Some very bad news...

Yesterday the New York State Appeals Court ruled in favor of the Episcopal Church in her lawsuit against a Rochester parish in a position similar too (but not exactly like) ours:

Here is the article in the Press and Sun:

"The parish in suburban Irondequoit quit supporting the diocese and the Episcopal Church of the USA after the 2003 ordination of its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

“We conclude that the Dennis Canons clearly establish an express trust in favor of the Rochester Diocese and the National Church, and that All Saints agreed to abide by this express trust either upon incorporation in 1927 or upon recognition as a parish in spiritual union with the Rochester Diocese in 1947,” Judge Theodore Jones Jr. wrote. The other six judges agreed.

All Saints’ attorney Eugene Van Voorhis had argued that the Dennis Canons, adopted in 1979 by the General Convention of the National Church, should not apply since they came nearly 30 years after it joined the diocese. He said the land and church were bought and built by the parishioners...more

While Jones agreed there was nothing in the original deeds or certificate of incorporation indicating the church property was held in trust for the diocese or National Church, he said applicable case law set in 1979 by the U.S. Supreme Court requires looking to the constitution of the general church."

This decision is not a good one. It essentially affirms property theft; that on the basis of a 1976 Canon a denomination may claim the property of parishes in existence long before. It is as if a CEO were argue that all of his employees' personal property belongs to his corporation so that when any one of them resigns, he takes their home and car.

We will be discussing this decision and the possible ramifications for Good Shepherd between services this coming Sunday.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thursday Notes

Dear Good Shepherd,

Good Morning and happy Thursday. We've had a great series of events lately, the Blessing of the Beasts, the Harvest Dinner, the Health Fair/BBQ/Rummage sale and the community impact from these along with the Shepherd's Bowl and our outreach efforts is beginning to make an impact and impression on the community. As you'll see below we are growing and there is a lot of energy here. It's important not to be distracted or to grow proud but to stay humble and to keep our focus on the Source of all blessings and abundance. The primary mission of the Church is to tell the world about Jesus Christ, to make disciples and teach them to obey the commands of the Lord (Matthew 28:18-end) Second, we are to take the grace, love, strength, wisdom, power and knowledge that he provides and pour all of it out in service to those around us.

What we are able to give others depends wholly on what we receive from God. If we do not seek him, love him, honor him and endeavor to obey him, we will have nothing to give to others. This is true both corporately, as a church, and personally as an individual. Your ability to produce fruit depends on the depth and strength of your roots. Those rooted in Christ and his Word bear good fruit and are regularly renewed and strengthened by God.

"God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written,

“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God." (2 Corinthians 10:9-11)

If you are feeling worn thin, exhausted, like you have given all you can give, it may be a sign that you need to get back to the Source, to seek Christ and receive the rest and power that only he can provide.

And so must we as a body, return over and over again, week by week, day by day to Christ and his Word, in study, worship and fellowship and be renewed to fulfill the mission we've been given in this city and in this neigborhood.

Thursday notes:

1. Noon Communion: Please remember, there will be noon communion today (Thursday).

2. Christmas Pageant: the First Christmas Pageant organizational meeting is tonight at the rectory. Just a reminder for those who are involved.

3. Halloween Outreach: Please bring bags of individually wrapped candy to the church this Sunday October 26th. We will use these to prepare Goodie Bags for delivery to our neighbors . These will be our Treat (no Tricks) to express our love and to invite any who wish to Good Shepherd on Halloween for hot chocolate. This Open House will be hosted by our college students.

4. Article in the Press and Sun on the Episcopal Church Crisis: There was a great article this week on the crisis in the Episcopal Church by George Will. If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so. I link it here along with a minor correction.

5. Attendance and Growth:
Just a note to say that we are overall doing very well. We had over 100 this Sunday for the first time in probably two decades on a regular non-religious holiday Sunday (not Easter or Christmas). The Blessing of the Beasts was a big success in drawing people in. This is also due to the fact that we are growing in numbers as well. We've probably added (and I have not counted this up but the vestry was talking about it last night) about 12-15 people so far this year and about six (again, this is rough) are or were "unchurched." In general we've been breaking 80 on a Sunday regularly which is quite good. Our goal this year, if you remember, was to break 100 consistently...and we still have about three months to meet it.

6. Sunday School: While Good Shepherd is being blessed in so many areas, I do think there is one area that needs attention: Sunday school for pre-school and elementary age children. About half of the kids that age who attend to Good Shepherd also come to Sunday School. Some say that if Sunday School were later in the morning it would be easier to get the kids there. I agree. And yet what time does school start? 8:00am? 8:30am? Others say that Sunday School was boring for them as children...well, okay, lots of kids think school is boring too. Are we going to keep them out of school so that they will be rescued from boredom? No. Why not? Because we know school is important.

The message we communicate to our children when we decide that Sunday school is unnecessary, and I know this is completely unintentional but the message is sent nonetheless, is that learning about Jesus is not as important as learning about math or science or history. In fact, these are important..but not nearly as important as the eternal destiny of your son or daughter.

Well, shouldn't we let children make up their minds about faith? Well, do you let your children make up their minds about school? Do you let them decide what is right and wrong behavior in your home? Do you let them decide whether they will treat people with respect and be polite? No, you teach them. When they get older, they can decide whether they want to follow what you have taught. When they are young, they need to have the information that will later inform their decisions. If you do not let them have access to the knowledge of God, your rob your children of the very things they need to make a mature and adult decision about faith. The bible is very clear on this. Parents are given binding instructions by God for raising his children:

"...And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates..." (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

God has commanded us to raise our children to know about him and to love his Word. It is our responsibility as parents to do that. No one learns about Jesus through osmosis. Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of God (Romans 10) So, how many parents at Good Shepherd read scripture with their children daily? If not, (and we should) at the very least we should make every effort to get our kids to Sunday School.

7. Cooking: Don Dean is scheduled to cook for the Men's Breakfast and Bible Study

8. Weekly Podcast: Justification: This week's Weekly Podcast is on the question: Are all human beings Justified through Christ?

This week's podcast discusses this doctrine and answers a question about it that came up on Sunday:

Here also is a good video presentation on the topic.

9. Last Sunday's sermon: If you missed last Sunday's sermon on whether Animals go to heaven, here it is again:

Download "Sermon: Do Animals Go to Heaven?" in MP3 format

I'll have the text up as soon as I get it corrected.

Well, that is all for now, please send in any updates you might have for tomorrow's Good Shepherd Update.

In Christ,

Matt

Good News on Attendance

Just a note to say that we are overall doing very well. We had over 100 this Sunday for the first time in probably two decades on a regular non-religious holiday Sunday (not Easter or Christmas). The Blessing of the Beasts was a big success in drawing people in. This is also due to the fact that we are growing in numbers as well. We've probably added (and I have not counted this up but the vestry was talking about it last night) about 12-15 people so far this year and about six (again, this is rough) are or were "unchurched." In general we've been breaking 80 on a Sunday regularly which is quite good. Our goal this year, if you remember, was to break 100 consistently...and we still have about three months to meet it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Weekly Podcast: Are all human beings Justified in Christ?

This week's podcast is on the topic of "Justification".

To be "justified" is to be declared "just" or "righteous" by God. We know that only those who are righteous will have eternal life:

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”(Luke 10:25-28)
We also know there no righteous human beings.

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” "There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:10-20)

So there is a big problem. How is it possible for any human being to be declared just before God?

The Doctrine of "Justification" is the doctrine that explains what God has done to give us that righteousness we do not naturally possess.

This week's podcast discusses this doctrine and answers a question about it that came up on Sunday:

Download "Weekly Podcast: Justification of all?" in MP3 format

here also is part (about 5 minutes) of a video lecture by RC Sproul addressing the same topic. The video looks like it was made in the 80's so try to look past the hair. It's good stuff.



An Opinion

The following article by Dr. Douglas Groothius expresses a concern I've had for some time. I'll warn you ahead of time, there is a political opinion expressed below so please do not read any further if that will offend you. I definitely respect and love those of you who may disagree on the question of abortion and politics, but I do think you are mistaken. Please feel free to take this on in the comments if you like. I certainly invite and encourage dialogue.

Recovering from Fetus Fatigue

It appears that millions of evangelicals, especially younger ones, are experiencing fetus fatigue. They are tired of the abortion issue taking center stage; it is time to move on to newer, hipper things--the sort of issues that excite Bono: aid to Africa, the environment, and cool tattoos. Abortion has been legal since they were born; it is the old guard that gets exercised about millions of abortions over the years. So, let's not worry that Barak Obama and Hillary are pro-choice. That is a secondary issue. After all, neither could do that much damage regarding this issue.

Evangelicals (if that word has any meaning), for God's sake, please wake up and remember the acres of tiny corpses you cannot see. Yes, the Christian social vision is holistic. We should endeavor to restore shalom to this beleaguered planet. That includes helping Africa, preserving the environment, and much more. However, the leading domestic moral issue remains the value of helpless human life. Since Roe v. Wade, approximately 50 million unborn humans have been killed through abortion. Stalin said, "One death is a tragedy. A million dead is a statistic." Too many are now Stalinists on abortion. The numbers mean nothing, apparently. The vast majority of these abortions were not done to save the life of the mother, a provision I take to be justified. Things have reached the point where bumper stickers say, "Don't like abortion, don't have one." It is simply a matter of private, subjective taste. But how about this: "Don't like slavery, don't own slaves"? Two human beings are involved in this matter, inescapably...read the whole thing

There are some pro-life Christians who argue that voting pro-life is not important because the president is incapable of effecting change with regard to this issue; that there must be a moral revolution not a legal solution.

But lets put some wheels on that idea and see if it rolls.

Let's apply this thinking to a comparable piece of legislated morality. The law against murder does not, obviously, keep people from murdering. Indeed, preventing murder would require a moral reformation beyond the reach of any legislation. At the same time, the absence of laws against murder would make murder far easier and would reduce our culture to barbarism. Everyone recognizes this.

No one would seriously suggest supporting a candidate who wanted to remove laws against murder from the books. No one would say “we need a moral revolution” not a “legal solution” to the problem of murder. Rational people recognise that both are necessary.

Abortion is quite the same. Yes, stopping abortion will require a corporate moral reformation that no law can effect. At the same time, the state must protect her citizens using appropriate legislation. Overturning of Roe (a possibility with just one or two more Supreme Court appointments) would result in at least some states enacting laws against abortion. Thousands of babies would be preserved from the slaughter. So the question is not an “either/or” one. Both can be done and must be.

As for this present election, there is far more at stake than overturning Roe. The Freedom of Choice Act, currently working its way through Congress would remove any restrictions on abortion for any cause whatsoever. States would be unable to enact any law that forbidding abortion for any reason. The passage of that bill would lead directly to thousands more babies being killed in states that currently place restrictions on the murderous practice. The votes are there in Congress. The only thing that can stop it from becoming law at this point is a pro-life president committed to vetoing FOCA. One presidential candidate has made that vow and the other has sworn to sign FOCA into law as soon as it comes to his desk.

So I do not think it possible to rationalize support for a pro-abortionist candidate by suggesting that the wholesale slaughter of babies cannot be limited by legal means or stemmed. It very well can.

But hey, that's just my opinion.

George Will on the Crisis in the Episcopal Church

This article by Washington Post columnist George Will is one of the better ones I've read in the mainstream media regarding the division in the Episcopal Church. Will accurately explains the primary cause of the crisis, namely the Episcopal Church's official departure from the truth revealed in God's Word on a whole range of essential matters including but reaching far beyond human sexual behavior...Here's an excerpt:

The Rev. Robert Duncan, 60, is not a Lutheran, but he is a Luther, of sorts. The former Episcopal bishop of Pittsburgh has, in effect, said the words with which Martin Luther shattered Christendom and asserted the primacy of individual judgment and conscience that defines the modern temperament: " Ich kann nicht anders" -- I cannot do otherwise.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh recently became the second diocese (the first was in Fresno, Calif.) to secede from the U.S. Episcopal Church since, but not entirely because of, the 2003 ordination in New Hampshire of an openly gay bishop -- Gene Robinson, a classmate of Duncan's at General Theological Seminary in New York in the 1970s. Before the Robinson controversy, other Episcopalians, from South Carolina to Southern California, had disassociated from the Episcopal Church and put themselves under the authority of conservative Anglican bishops who serve where the church is flourishing -- often in sub-Saharan Africa, where a majority of Anglicans live.

It is not the secessionists such as Duncan who are, as critics charge, obsessed with homosexuality. The Episcopal Church's leadership is latitudinarian -- tolerant to the point of incoherence, Duncan and kindred spirits think -- about clergy who deviate from traditional church teachings concerning such core doctrines as the divinity of Christ, the authority of Scripture and the path to salvation. But the national church insists on the ordination of openly gay clergy and on blessing same-sex unions...read the whole thing

I should add that Will is incorrect with regard to Martin Luther's stand. He did not "shatter" Christendom on the basis of an appeal to the "primacy of individual judgment". Rather he shattered the idea that the Church and the Bible possess equal weight and authority.

Luther appealed to the principle of "Sola Scriptura": the bible--as the only infallible or inerrant source of divine revelation--is the supreme source and measure of truth and the standard by which Church teaching, and all thoughts, inclinations, and behaviors must be tested and weighed. Far from asserting the "primacy of private judgment", Luther argued that when God speaks with the intention of communicating to his human creatures, he does so clearly and plainly so that human beings can understand. The bible is clear or "perspicuos" in all essential matters. This does not mean that there are no difficult passages that are hard to understand, certainly there are. It does mean that anyone who diligently studies can understand what is necessary to believe and to do in order to be justified and saved.

This principle of "Sola Scriptura" means that you do not need to believe everything that the Church teaches simply because the Church teaches it. The clerical collar I wear does not give me or anyone else infallible authority. You, as a believer, have a responsibility to test my teachings and the teachings of the Church in light of what the bible teaches. This is what the Bereans were commended for in Acts 17:10-11

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

It is trust in the truth God's Word--that the bible supercedes the teaching of the church--that makes dissent from and opposition to the teachings of the Episcopal Church with regard to homosexual behavior(Romans 1:25-28; 1 Cor 6:9) and the uniqueness of Christ (John 14:6) not only important, but a necessary and essential Christian duty. We must do so, not only to remain faithful to Christ and his gospel, but to help clarify, by the grace of God, the truth about these matters for those who are being decieved and led into the darkness, further from Christ.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Good Shepherd Update

This week's Good Shepherd Update has just been posted. Follow this link

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thursday Notes

Dear Good Shepherd,

Happy Thursday, here are your Thursday notes...

1. Thank you so very much to everyone who organized, led, participated or helped in any way with this year's Harvest Dinner...there are just too many people to thank to start naming names, but it went very well. I am especially glad that this year's dinner was lifted up in prayer. It is so important to remember not to draw a line between what is done for the sake of the gospel and the glory of Jesus Christ and what is done to raise funds or other "secular" pursuits. Everything the body of Christ does, even the Harvest Dinner, is and must be done to further the Gospel and to glorify the Lord. I am so thankful that God has reminded us of that truth this year.

2. Blessing of the Beasts. As you know this Sunday is the blessing of the beasts. For those of you who do not wish to be around the beasts, the 8:00am service will be beast-free. But for the rest, bring your beast to the 10:30am. Here are some basic guidelines:

a. dogs must be on leashes. Cats must be in carry cases or leashes. Birds/mice/gerbils/rats/snakes/lizards MUST be in cages.

b. If you have beasts that cannot control their bodily functions (donkeys, horses, etc...) please do not bring them into the sanctuary. I will bless them outside.

c. If your dog/cat/animal of any kind barks or growls or calls or meows uncontrollably, please do take him/her out of the service until he/she calms down so that the other beasts can enjoy the service.

There will be treats after the service for almost every sort of beast regardless of behavior...except snakes, since they eat mice and that would sort of wreck the whole blessing thing.

Finally, there will be Christian education between services. We will end the classes at exactly 10:10am so that people who are attending Sunday school can run home to pick up their various and sundry beasts.

3. Bible Studies: All the bible studies are up and running this week including the Women's Bible Study on Saturday, the Men's Breakfast and Bible study on Friday morning and the Beginner's Bible Study tonight.

4. The cook for the men's Breakfast/Bible Study this week is, well, the list says "BC" and I have no idea who that is...does anyone know? Maybe someone might volunteer? We'll be moving to Hebrews 2

5. Sermon: If you did not get it, here is last Sunday's sermon on dealing with Anxiety by Carrie Moorhead:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Download "Carrie Moorhead: Anxiety and Contentment" in MP3 format

6. Podcast: Last week's podcast dealt with the topic, raised by a parishioner of abortion in cases of rape/incest.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Download "Weekly Podcast: Is Abortion Right in Cases of Rape or Incest?" in MP3 format

7. JI Packer: This morning I linked an Anglican TV interview with famous evangelical theologian (and Anglican) JI Packer. You can watch it here. Dr. Packer was recently deposed from his position in the Anglican Church of Canada as a result of his decision not to follow the diocese down the path of blessing same sex unions and affirming homosexual behavior. He speaks about his experience in the interview.

8. Lectionary: If you are wondering why I no longer post the daily readings here this will explain things. Here is a link to the daily lectionary (PDF) that we use so you can follow along for yourself.

9. Prayers needed: Please pray:

a. for the marriages, children, and families of Good Shepherd as we enter the feasting seasons. This can be a very difficult time for marriages and families so please keep the people of this church in your prayers

b. for discernment and wisdom on the part of the vestry...that we will be able to know God's will (Colossians 1:9)

That is about it for now...more in tomorrow's update.

JI Packer on Anglican TV

For those of you raised in evangelical families, Dr. JI Packer may be a name with which you are familiar. He wrote "Knowing God" which has since (justly) become a classic in evangelical circles. You may not have known that he is an Anglican. Here is his interview with Anglican TV

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Harvest Dinner Tonight

Tonight is not only the last Presidential debate--FAR more importantly--it is the night of the Harvest Dinner. I spent the afternoon cooking a Turkey and the evening carving it. It was really hard not to eat the thing but I managed, mostly, to turn in the meat. Hope to see you tonight.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No First Light Bible Study tonight

Just a reminder that there is no First Light Bible Study tonight due to the Harvest Dinner tomorrow night and all the preparations that need to be made.

We'll meet next week

In Christ
Matt

The Promised Daily Lectionary Link

For those of you following along with the Daily Lectionary, if you follow this link (PDF), you will find all of the readings listed by date. There are some readings from the Apocrypha listed but when those come up I substitute them with a reading from the Old Testament. Even with those, if you follow it every day, morning and evening, you will read through the entire bible in one year. If you follow just the morning readings, you will finish the entire bible in 2 years.

The Rev. Michael Fry from California created this Lectionary and we've been using it for about three years now. Here again is the link:

http://www.standfirminfaith.com/media/A_New_Lectionary_(2005).pdf

Remember, it is a PDF document so it might take a moment to load. I'll be posting it on the side-bar for easy access.

The Episcopal Church officially supports Abortion on Demand for any Reason

Wow. This is simply horrifying.

http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/16925/

It's difficult to believe that any Christian organization could support the wholesale slaughter of innocent unborn babies. Pray for their repentance and pray that God will somehow put an end to this merciless killing.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. [1]
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
(Psalm 139: 13-16)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Carrie Moorhead: Contentment and Anxiety

Monday, October 13, 2008

Download "Carrie Moorhead: Anxiety and Contentment" in MP3 format

Carrie Moorhead the Staff leader for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (the largest Christian student ministry on the Binghamton University campus) led Christian education this Sunday, discussing college ministry and preached the sermon above on the problem of Anxiety and Contentment based on Philippians 4

Lectionary Repentance

As you can tell, I am fairly bad at remembering to post daily readings. If you are depending on me to do that, which it seems more than a dozen of you are, then I've failed you miserably. However, I've decided to do something that may help. I've converted the lectionary chart into a PDF document that you can download and use independently as soon as I figure out how to link it.

When I do, I'll be posting this link permanently at the Good Shepherd website and here, at the blog, on the side-bar. This way you won't have to wait for me every morning and I won't be wracked with guilt and everyone will be happy.

I'll be posting Carrie Moorhead's sermon here later this morning and at the main website, so stay tuned.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Weekly Podcast: Is Abortion Right in Cases of Rape or Incest?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Download "Weekly Podcast: Is Abortion Right in Cases of Rape or Inscest?" in MP3 format

A parishioner asked a very difficult question during one of this week's bible studies. If a woman is violated and conscieves, should she be asked to continue the pregnancy?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Weekly Podcast: How do we choose Readings for Sunday Morning?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Download "Weekly Podcast: How do we choose Readings for Sunday Morning?" in MP3 format

One of our newer parishioners asked how we go about selecting readings each Sunday and how I determine what text I will preach from. Anglican parishes use a schedule of readings called a "lectionary". I address this question and talk about why we use lectionaries in this very short podcast

Morning Prayer Readings Oct 10: 1 Kings 21; Hebrews 4:1-13

Old Testament: 1st Kings 21

Naboth's Vineyard

21:1 Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. 2 And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” 3 But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” 4 And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him, for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and would eat no food.

5 But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, “Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food?” 6 And he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money, or else, if it please you, I will give you another vineyard for it.’ And he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” 7 And Jezebel his wife said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

8 So she wrote letters in Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the leaders who lived with Naboth in his city. 9 And she wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth at the head of the people. 10 And set two worthless men opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed [1] God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death.” 11 And the men of his city, the elders and the leaders who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. As it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, 12 they proclaimed a fast and set Naboth at the head of the people. 13 And the two worthless men came in and sat opposite him. And the worthless men brought a charge against Naboth in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones. 14 Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money, for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” 16 And as soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

The Lord Condemns Ahab

17 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 18 “Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. 19 And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Have you killed and also taken possession?”’ And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.”’”

20 Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord. 21 Behold, I will bring disaster upon you. I will utterly burn you up, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. 22 And I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the anger to which you have provoked me, and because you have made Israel to sin. 23 And of Jezebel the Lord also said, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the walls of Jezreel.’ 24 Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the heavens shall eat.”

Ahab's Repentance

25 (There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. 26 He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel.)

27 And when Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly. 28 And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 29 “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son's days I will bring the disaster upon his house.”


New Testament: Hebrews 4:1-13

4:1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. [1] 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God [2] would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thursday Notes

Dear Good Shepherd,

Happy Thursday.

There is a lot to report this morning so I'll get started.

First some good news: Many of you may remember Justin and Katie Almeida. They moved to Binghamton, joined Good Shepherd, Justin lead the choir and Katie helped with Sunday school for about two years before they moved to Rhinebeck New York last year. Katie's Mom called yesterday to let me know that Katie has given birth to a very healthy girl baby named Adelaide Grace. Adelaid is 19 inches and 7.9lbs and she is an answer to many many prayers. Congratulations Justin and Katie (they are still on the update list) and may God bless Adelaid.

2. Congratulations to Alexander Hercules Alberto Beam who was Baptized this Sunday. Welcome to the Family.

3. The Harvest dinner is coming up Next Wednesday, the 15th of October. For those of you who do not know the Harvest Dinner is a more than century old tradition at Good Shepherd. Many Binghamtonians look forward to it every year, marking it on their calendars as the first big celebration of the Fall. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, all sorts and kinds of pies great food at a great price. It's a lot of fun and a lot of work. If you are a member of Good Shepherd please sign up to help in a task. There is a sign up board in the parish hall for volunteers. We need all of the volunteers we can get.

4. Carrie Moorhead will be preaching and teaching this coming Sunday. Carrie is the on-campus staff leader for InterVarsity fellowship, a large (I think the largest) Christian student group on the BU Campus and she is one of our newest parishioners. She will talk to us about her ministry to college students and professors and give us some insight into college ministry and outreach in general. She is a very good speaker and has lead discussions on ministry and leadership at conventions across the country.

5. I've posted another article on the role of scripture in the church based on the sixth Article of Religion: How do we Know what is Essential? In the article I address the question: How do we know which church teachings are essential to the Christian faith and which teachings are non-essential or open to dispute and disagreement?

6. One more: If you have not heard, the diocese of Pittsburgh voted to leave the Episcopal Church this Saturday. Here is a video that will help you understand the background.

7. Sermon: Here is a link to last sunday's sermon: The Uncomfortable Church

8. I was unable to get a podcast out last week. I'm going to try to have two this week. The first will have to do with a question I received about the passages read on Sunday morning and the second will have to do with a question asked this week about abortion...

9. Breakfast/Bible Study: Charles Hadley has volunteered to cook breakfast instead of me tomorrow morning for the men's breakfast and Bible study. I'll be there but he wanted to cook. We'll hopefully be moving into Hebrew's 2.

10. Choir will also not meet this Saturday. But if you are in choir please do remember to come to one of the two meetings offered for your convenience. It is important that we worship God with excellence on Sunday and that requires practice.

11.In him was life: john Piper preaches an excellent sermon on the Life we have in Christ and the life he gives to the world, based on John 1.

12. Bible Studies: All the other bible studies will meet as usual.


13. Flower Fund: The deadline has passed for the Flower Fund. If you wish to have flowers placed on the altar, please fill out the form now and give it to Cookie Finch. Please remember that if an occasion arises during the year you can always dedicate flowers by calling Cookie a week ahead. The Altar Guild of St. Anne's thanks you for your support by donating flowers.

How do we know what is Essential?

This is the most recent article (published today) from my ongoing series on the 39 Articles of Religion (the Anglican Confession of Faith) Read the first two parts of my discussion of Article 6 here and here

The next phrase in Article 6 will require some parsing:
..so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

The battle over the proper expression of human sexuality in the Church has brought with it controversy with regard to the question of what constitutes “essential” doctrine. Which doctrines must be believed, which commands must be obeyed, and what behaviors must be avoided and, conversely, which doctrines and disciplines are appropriately categorized as “disputable”?

That there are “disputable” matters within the scope of orthodox Christianity is indisputable. St. Paul articulates the principle in Romans 14.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master] that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.(Romans 14:1-5)

There are three things we should note for our purposes here.

First, Paul recognizes that there will be a wide variety of disciplines practiced and principles held by believers within the Church. Some of these will conflict with others.

Second. In so far as these principles and practices are matters of “opinion” we ought not, he exhorts, “pass judgment”. We may disagree on “matters of opinion” but we need not divide.

Third: Paul thinks “matters of opinion” are important. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” To categorize something as disputable is not to say that it is inconsequential. Christians ought to be “fully convinced,” that our “opinions” are consistent with the revealed will of God.

Taken together, Paul says that believers must arrive at their opinions soberly and with care and yet mere opinions cannot be forced on another person.

But how do we know which principles and practices are mere “matters of opinion” and which are something more? What criteria do we employ to discern the difference between what must be believed and what is disputable?

This is a particularly troubling question in light of current controversies in the Anglican Communion and beyond. Some on the left, for example, argue that homosexuality falls under the category of “opinion”. The Rev. Susan Russell, the president of Integrity USA, the Episcopalian organization promoting the blessing of non-celibate homosexual relationships appeals to Romans 14 as if it self-evidently applies to sexual relationships. Others do the same with regard to divorce and remarriage, the ordination of women, and the use of birth control.

The answer, according to Article 6, depends upon whether a given doctrine, discipline, or practice can be established or “proven” in scripture.

If it can be shown that a practice is plainly prohibited or a discipline clearly commanded or a doctrine unambiguously taught in scripture, then, by implication, conformity to it may be “required.” Such practices, disciplines, and doctrines are not “disputable”, they are not matters of “opinion”, they are absolute or “essential.”

For this reason orthodox Christians consider doctrines like the divinity of Christ, the Virgin birth and the bodily resurrection “essential” and the standing condemnation of certain practices like incest or homosexual behavior beyond dispute. There is, most agree, scriptural clarity about these matters.

But when Christians appeal to the plain teaching of scripture as the ground of doctrine and discipline the question arises: does scripture reveal anything plainly and to whose satisfaction?

This question lies at the root of perhaps the most popular epistemological objection to biblical arguments: the voluminous mass of conflicting interpretations prove that there is no way to know the true meaning of any biblical text.

There are, indeed, wildly conflicting, confusing, and contrived interpretations not only of obscure and difficult scriptural texts but of the crucial passages--the apparently “plain” passages--that lie at the core of what most churches consider essential doctrine.

How do we maintain the criterion of clarity for determining essential doctrine when so very few passages remain free of controversy? How do we uphold the principle articulated by Article 6 that “what cannot be proven cannot be required” if, in fact, nothing can be proven?

We must, I think, begin by pointing out that controversy or dispute over the meaning of a given text does not necessarily mean that the proper interpretation text is “disputable”.Often the source of controversy is rooted not in the actual text but in an inadequate philosophy of interpretation or “hermeneutic”.

In his book, Truth and Power: the Place of Scripture in the Christian Life, JI Packer writes:
“Faultless formulas about biblical inspiration and authority do us no good while we misunderstand the Bible for whose supremacy we fight. The major differences between historic Protestants and Roman Catholics — papal authority, the presence and sacrifice of Christ in the mass, the form and credentials of the ordained ministry, the way of salvation by grace through faith — are rooted in differences of interpretation. So are the major cleavages between Christians of all persuasions and Jehovah's Witnesses, with their antitrinitarianism, their anticipations of Armageddon and their legalistic doctrine of salvation. Yet these groups have historically maintained the inerrancy of Scripture (some Roman Catholics are slipping these days, but that is a detail) and have claimed that all their distinctives are Bible-based. You see, then, how important the issue of interpretation is.” (p105)

Using the proper hermeneutic, Dr. Packer writes, is key to arriving at a correct understanding of scripture. In this way the bible is not unique. The same principle holds for any work of literature, art, or media.

HG Wells' “War of the Worlds” was broadcast over the radio to thousands of Americans in the 1930's. Many if not most failed to correctly interpret what they heard. Panic ensued. Some Americans loaded into their vehicles and ran for the hills, others locked themselves in their basements and cellars, still others loaded their hunting rifles and prepared to fight off Martian invaders. False reports of alien spacecraft landings flooded local police and military installations. What happened? Listeners employed a faulty hermeneutic. They perceived HG Wells' fanciful story as fact rather than fiction because they tuned in too late to hear the introduction.

Books, movies, and television programs can easily be misunderstood. That does not mean that they have no objective meaning nor does it mean that their meaning is unclear and/or beyond discovery. Like any other task interpretation requires diligence and the correct tools.

The same is true of scripture. Though divinely inspired and inerrant, the bible is also work of human literature and must be interpreted using the same tools and methodologies employed in understanding any other piece of literature. Proper hermeneutics, of course, is not the focus of this essay. Much has been written about it elsewhere. The point is that the principle of scriptural clarity or perspicuity rests on the assumption that the bible, on the human level, is a book like any other book and as such it is at least as accessible and understandable.

In discussing the clarity of scripture Kevin J. Vanhoozer writes:
It [scriptural clarity] does not mean, first of all, that interpretation is unnecessary - the biblical meaning will be delivered up by some mystical process of hermeneutical osmosis. Nor does it mean that an autonomous individual can, by employing critical techniques alone, wrest the meaning from the text. Rather, clarity means that the Bible is sufficiently unambiguous in the main for any well-intentioned person with Christian faith to interpret each part with relative adequacy. In the context of the Reformation, the perspicuity of Scripture was the chief weapon for combating the authority of the dominant interpretive community: Rome...The idea that the Bible is clear does not obviate the need for interpretation but, on the contrary, makes the work of interpretation even more important. The clarity of Scripture means that understanding is possible, not that it is easy. (Is There a Meaning in This Text: pp315-317)

The principle of scriptural clarity is rooted in the fact that the bible originated with God; that it is inspired by his Spirit; that its composition was divinely superintended; that its purpose is revelation; and that its intended recipients are human beings. If we believe these propositions then the basic intelligibility of the bible must be assumed. If God intended to communicate and reveal his truth to human beings through the vehicle of scripture, then scripture must be perspicuous especially with regard to those matters that are essential to faith and salvation.

Since, moreover, the Holy Spirit selected and inspired human writers to communicate in human language to human readers we ought to assume that in so far as we, fellow human beings, understand human communication that we have the capacity to understand scripture not simply in a relative personal manner, but in keeping with the message the human author intended to convey.

To suggest otherwise comes close to denying the possibility of communication in general. Why set scripture apart? If one decides a priori, at the outset, that it is impossible for human beings to grasp the meaning intended by the human author of a given biblical text then he ought not restrict his pessimism to the bible. His assertion cuts to the heart of social interaction; it calls into question the very possibility of human communication in a broad sense.

Apart from postmodern literary deconstructionists, few go there. Though many decide, before the fact, that scripture is indecipherable few carry that assumption into their reading of other types of literature. No one who takes the trouble to read the newspaper in the morning or a book or this article believes communicated meaning to be beyond discovery. Because we are social creatures we human beings assume, as a practical necessity, that we can communicate intelligibly with one another.

That reasonable assumption extends--it must extend--to the bible because while it's origin is divine and its truth divinely superintended, scripture was written by human beings for human beings. The bible, therefore, despite the well known vexing difficulties that attend to specific texts and passages, is at the very least as perspicuous as purely human forms of communication. It is able to be understood in an objective way.

On the assumed grounds of perspicuity, then, Article 6 maintains that what doctrines and disciplines cannot be proven by or are not grounded in scripture cannot be required of any man or woman in the Church.

This, of course, leads to the next question: which scriptures?

Next week...Article Six and the Deuterocanonical books.

Morning Prayer Readings October 9: 1 Kings 20:26-end; Hebrews 3

Old Testament: 1 Kings 20:26-end

Ahab Defeats Ben-hadad Again

26 In the spring, Ben-hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. 27 And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country. 28 And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” 29 And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. 30 And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left.

Ben-hadad also fled and entered an inner chamber in the city. 31 And his servants said to him, “Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Let us put sackcloth around our waists and ropes on our heads and go out to the king of Israel. Perhaps he will spare your life.” 32 So they tied sackcloth around their waists and put ropes on their heads and went to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad says, ‘Please, let me live.’” And he said, “Does he still live? He is my brother.” 33 Now the men were watching for a sign, and they quickly took it up from him and said, “Yes, your brother Ben-hadad.” Then he said, “Go and bring him.” Then Ben-hadad came out to him, and he caused him to come up into the chariot. 34 And Ben-hadad said to him, “The cities that my father took from your father I will restore, and you may establish bazaars for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” And Ahab said, “I will let you go on these terms.” So he made a covenant with him and let him go.

A Prophet Condemns Ben-hadad's Release

35 And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow at the command of the Lord, “Strike me, please.” But the man refused to strike him. 36 Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, behold, as soon as you have gone from me, a lion shall strike you down.” And as soon as he had departed from him, a lion met him and struck him down. 37 Then he found another man and said, “Strike me, please.” And the man struck him—struck him and wounded him. 38 So the prophet departed and waited for the king by the way, disguising himself with a bandage over his eyes. 39 And as the king passed, he cried to the king and said, “Your servant went out into the midst of the battle, and behold, a soldier turned and brought a man to me and said, ‘Guard this man; if by any means he is missing, your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent [1] of silver.’ 40 And as your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.” The king of Israel said to him, “So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it.” 41 Then he hurried to take the bandage away from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. 42 And he said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, [2] therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.’” 43 And the king of Israel went to his house vexed and sullen and came to Samaria.


New Testament: Hebrews 3

Jesus Greater Than Moses

3:1 Therefore, holy brothers, [1] you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's [2] house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. [3]

A Rest for the People of God

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Morning Prayer Readings October 8:1 Kings 20:1-25; Hebrews 2

Old Testament: 1 Kings 20:1-25

Ahab's Wars with Syria

20:1 Ben-hadad the king of Syria gathered all his army together. Thirty-two kings were with him, and horses and chariots. And he went up and closed in on Samaria and fought against it. 2 And he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel and said to him, “Thus says Ben-hadad: 3 ‘Your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children also are mine.’” 4 And the king of Israel answered, “As you say, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have.” 5 The messengers came again and said, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘I sent to you, saying, “Deliver to me your silver and your gold, your wives and your children.” 6 Nevertheless I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants and lay hands on whatever pleases you and take it away.’”

7 Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land and said, “Mark, now, and see how this man is seeking trouble, for he sent to me for my wives and my children, and for my silver and my gold, and I did not refuse him.” 8 And all the elders and all the people said to him, “Do not listen or consent.” 9 So he said to the messengers of Ben-hadad, “Tell my lord the king, ‘All that you first demanded of your servant I will do, but this thing I cannot do.’” And the messengers departed and brought him word again. 10 Ben-hadad sent to him and said, “The gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.” 11 And the king of Israel answered, “Tell him, ‘Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.’” 12 When Ben-hadad heard this message as he was drinking with the kings in the booths, he said to his men, “Take your positions.” And they took their positions against the city.

Ahab Defeats Ben-hadad

13 And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, “Thus says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 14 And Ahab said, “By whom?” He said, “Thus says the Lord, By the servants of the governors of the districts.” Then he said, “Who shall begin the battle?” He answered, “You.” 15 Then he mustered the servants of the governors of the districts, and they were 232. And after them he mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand.

16 And they went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the booths, he and the thirty-two kings who helped him. 17 The servants of the governors of the districts went out first. And Ben-hadad sent out scouts, and they reported to him, “Men are coming out from Samaria.” 18 He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive. Or if they have come out for war, take them alive.”

19 So these went out of the city, the servants of the governors of the districts and the army that followed them. 20 And each struck down his man. The Syrians fled, and Israel pursued them, but Ben-hadad king of Syria escaped on a horse with horsemen. 21 And the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and struck the Syrians with a great blow.

22 Then the prophet came near to the king of Israel and said to him, “Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you.”

23 And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. 24 And do this: remove the kings, each from his post, and put commanders in their places, 25 and muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he listened to their voice and did


New Testament: Hebrews 2

Warning Against Neglecting Salvation

2:1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

The Founder of Salvation

5 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor, [1]
8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. [2] That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, [3] 12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again,

“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.