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Archive for July, 2009

THE CHURCH AND ITS APOSTOLIC MINISTRY

A Course of Lectures Delivered In St. Mark’s Church, Denver, In January, 1887.

RT. REV. JOHN FRANKLIN SPALDING, D. D.,

Missionary Bishop of Colorado.

MILWAUKEE, WIS.: THE YOUNG CHURCHMAN CO.

1887

LECTURE I.

THE NATURE OF THE CHURCH.

There is an obvious need at the present time of correct teaching upon the subject of the Church. The Christian Minister who feels his responsibility in declaring the whole Counsel of God must often lament the prevailing ignorance on this subject, and be deeply impressed with the importance of giving to his people sound and full instruction concerning the “Gospel of the Kingdom,” which it is his bounden duty to “preach ” (St. Mark i, 14). Belief in the Church is fundamental. With the loss of the Church you may lose the faith which it enshrines. The Church is the “keeper and witness of Holy Writ” (Article xx), “the pillar and ground of the Truth” (1 Tim. iii, 15). The doctrine of the Church is an essential part of Christian teaching. The creed of Christendom, brief as it is, teaches us to say “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church,” after we have said, “I believe in God,” in “His only Son our Lord,” and ” in the Holy Ghost.” The Church is the Body of which Christ is the Head. The saved through Christ are “added to the Church” (Acts ii, 47). Upon the Church rests the responsibility, through Her Ministry of the Word and Sacraments, of their spiritual nurture, their growth in grace, their preparation for their heavenly felicity. It is our duty as well-instructed Christians and Churchmen to learn what the Church is, the Notes which distinguish it, its Authority, Orders, Polity and Government, that we may know and improve our privileges, and so attain through the Kingdom of Grace, a glorious entrance into the Kingdom of Glory.

And I cannot but think that a better knowledge of the Church would help us in resisting the rationalistic tendencies of the times. The old gross infidelity of the last and the beginning of the present century has indeed disappeared from among the intelligent classes. Except among the illiterate, you will find no admirers of such writers as Paine and other like despisers of God’s revelation. But you will find instead a growing spirit of rationalism. It is defended by writers of no mean ability. It allies itself with science and philosophy. It is popularized in current literature, which abounds in unwarrantable assumptions, discrediting the Bible in its supposed relations to science, the authenticity of the Sacred Books, the substantial accuracy of Bible History. The uninstructed are asked to sit in judgment on questions in the solution of which trained abilities and the deepest research are necessary. Nothing is too sacred to be questioned. No authority is too high to be brought into doubt and practical contempt. Man is infinitely exalted. The infallibility of reason is substituted for the infallibility of the Bible. All possible problems of nature and spirit, profane and sacred, are rashly decided. God in man, rather man himself, becomes man’s Teacher, Guide and Saviour.

Such destructive theories are closely connected with the loss or the forgetfulness of the true idea of the Church. They can best be corrected by restoring to the Church its true position in our religious system and life, and its rightful authority in matters of faith. Historically, the Church is before the Bible. The Bible was not given and then the Church formed in accordance with its teaching. The Church must have been first, or there could have been no Sacred Scriptures. This is true in relation to both the Old and the New Testaments. The revelation of God could not have been spoken from the opening Heavens into the ear of the world. It was given to men called out of the world, to men prepared for it, to men who would obey and keep it and hand it on to the future. The Bible is made up of the supernatural history, and special divine teaching, of the Church, in the exigencies through which God led it. What, for example, are the Holy Gospels but memoirs of Christ compiled under the guidance of inspiration by witnesses, or companions of witnesses, of the events, a considerable time after the death of Christ, for the use of the Church which was already established and widely diffused, and long familiar with the facts they record through the oral teaching of the Apostles? What are the Epistles but letters called forth by the needs of the times to individual Churches ? What are “the Acts,” but the Sacred History of the empowering of the Church in its Pentecostal gifts, and of the Apostolic labors and successes of its Ministers? Primarily, the Church itself is God’s Revelation. The written Word is authoritative, as given to the Church, recorded for the Church, by the Church’s Ministers; preserved by the Church, proclaimed by the Church, for the Church’s nurture and sanctification. Remove from beneath it its “pillar and ground,” and it could only be expected that the Edifice of Truth would fall. But give to the Church the place and authority that rightly belong to it, as Christ’s own Institution, with its Ministry, sent and empowered by Him for their work, with Orders, Sacraments, Rites and Government, ordained by Him or having His approval;. establish the claim of the Church to be heard with its authoritative testimony, amidst the din of human controversy and the vagaries and aimless searchings of doubt, and there will be, at least among Christians, little place for Scepticism. The new rationalistic Christianity will be no longer possible. Rationalistic attacks upon the Ministry, depreciation of the Episcopate and of its powers and prerogatives, denials of the Church’s identity in history from the Apostles’ times, are alarming symptoms, and are hailed as welcome supports, of Infidelity.

You will not be surprised, therefore, that I should be requested by the clergy, observant of these things, and should feel it to be my duty, to explain and defend the nature, authority, government and perpetuity of the Church of Christ.

In entering upon this course of lectures, it is proper to say, that I shall attempt no discussion of the contradictory theories of the Church which are held by different Christian Bodies. I shall not directly, nor farther than the argument may require it, question the claims of any. Let all stand or fall to their own Master. It might be more interesting, and more forcibly impress the truth, to subject them all to a rigid criticism and test their claims by Scripture and History. But the vague and foolish charge of uncharitableness might be raised, and a spirit hostile to free inquiry be excited. Bigotry and prejudice among weak brethren might close their ears to the truth. I deem it better, therefore, and a due regard to brevity requires it, to confine myself to the positive setting forth of the facts and truth of the case.

After so long an introduction, as a justification of the course, and a statement of the spirit in which it will be conducted, I come directly to the subject of the present Lecture, which is, the Nature of the Church. And my purpose is to show that the Society, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. It is as such that we profess our belief in the Church in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. These,  therefore, are the Notes, or Marks that distinguish it, by the Confession of all Churchmen in all ages.

The word means, etymologically, a body of men called out of the world, a selected assembly or Congregation. Historically, it is the people called out of heathenism, from worldly engrossments, from the slavery of sin, and who are born into the Christ-Kingdom, or organized into a society with Christ as their Lord and Head, receiving Him personally as their Redeemer and Saviour, giving Him their full allegiance, obeying His teaching, relying on His promises. They are called into this membership by the Church’s Ministry and prevenient grace. They are each received in a Symbolic Rite, which is the mode of their initiation, the means of their new Birth (S. John iii, 5). They obtain privileges, and pledge obedience. They are in Covenant with God through Christ the Mediator, on the ground of His Redemptive work, through the human instrumentality of His Ministry. Responsive to His grace, they are confirmed therein, and the Spiritual gifts conferred by the laying on of Apostles’ hands. And there is a further Sacrament of participation of the life of Christ crucified, of growth into Him, of nurture and sanctification. There is also therein the habitual pleading of Christ’s sacrifice, and the public and common worship, the hearing of God’s word and its authoritative exhibition and application. The life of a Christian is not in individual isolation. It is a corporate life in Christ, in membership of His Body, the Divine Humanity, the medium of His Spirit working, in which with mind and heart responsive, he receives all Spiritual grace and blessing.

The Church presides over all the Christian’s earthly course. She surrounds him and watches over him with all a mother’s anxious care, and at last solemnizes over him the rites of Christian burial, in sure hope of the Resurrection of life. The Church in short is the Divine environment in which, if conformed thereto, he shall realize the perfection of his being in union with Christ, and at last the Redemption of body, soul and spirit in a blissful immortality.

The organized body of Christ’s followers thus baptized into Him is the Church. It may be considered as local— a single congregation. It is a Church as having the Ministry, the due administration of the Sacraments and the preaching of the pure word of God. But the word is not commonly nor so properly used in this local sense. The Church is rather of a City, State or Nation, as the Church at Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, or Crete, or the Seven Diocesan Churches of Asia Minor. Or it may be the whole collective Body of Christ’s people, distinguished by the marks assigned to it in the Creeds. Thus it is the Kingdom which the prophet Daniel foretold would be inaugurated after the Assyrian, Medo-Persian and Grecian Empires should have passed away and the great Empire of Rome should be established: a Kingdom which the God of Heaven should set up and which should never be destroyed. This is the Kingdom which John Baptist announced as immediately at hand, which Jesus Himself began to preach in Galilee (St. Mark i, 14), and which He, its founder, compared to a grain of mustard seed, to leaven, etc., in His parables. So, too, for it is set forth and illustrated in varied language. It is the Body of Christ. It is a living Temple built up on the foundation of His doctrine. It is a vine with fruit-bearing branches. It is an army fighting and conquering under Jesus our King and the Captain of our Salvation. It is the institution built by Christ against which the gates of hell cannot prevail (S. Matt. xvii, 18). It is “the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the Truth.”

All the references to it in Holy Scripture prove that it is Divine and intended to be permanent. I am not speaking now of the Jewish Church of which the Christian is the antitype, the continuation, the development, and which every one who receives the Old Testament believes to have been Divine in its origin and divinely guided in its history. I am speaking of the Church of the New Covenant. It is founded by Christ. It is purchased by His Blood. It is vitalized and energized by His Spirit. He ordained and appointed and qualifies its Ministry, and provides for their succession and perpetuation. He instituted its Sacraments, and gave for its guidance the Word of Truth. He intended it as the Spiritual Home of God’s children, the School for their training, the instrumental means of their salvation. He intended, moreover, that the Church as His Body should represent Him in the world, should be through the Word and Sacraments the extension and perpetuation of His incarnate life, should continue the work which He “began to do and to teach ” (Acts i, 1), and of which He laid the foundation in His Death. Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecostal gifts; that it should assimilate unto itself all that its leaven could penetrate; that it should be the conserver and teacher of all the Truth, the great instrument of civilization and progress, of the elevation, the social and individual improvement of men, and the regeneration of the world.

I need not assist you to make the inference at this point that this society is unique in character. Men may organize societies for good purposes, but they can be in no way identical with this society. Such societies may be formed for the circulation of the Scriptures and religious books, for the planting and support of missions, for the defense and propagation of particular doctrines, for the spread of what is deemed to be Christianity. But no such Society organized by good men, no aggregation of such societies is the Church of Christ. In no respect can such an identity be predicated.

We come now to the Notes of the Church given in the Creeds. First, it is One. Christ, the Head, has not many Bodies, but one Body. It has many members, and all have not the same office, but they all contribute to the increase and usefulness of the Body. So the Vine is one. The Temple is one. Indeed, all the Scripture representations of the Church involve its Unity.

Since the Church has been broken into many schisms in the progress of its history, and as we see it to-day seems to be sadly divided, a distinction has been drawn between the Church, visible and invisible; and the Unity of which the Scriptures and the Creeds speak, is by some held to be true only of the latter. Such a distinction is clearly possible. It was made by many of the Reformers and later Anglican Theologians. But they generally mean, by the Church invisible, the Church Expectant in Paradise, or Triumphant in Glory. With some, also, it signifies that secret, elect number known only to God, who will persevere unto the end, and who may be conceived of as one with the Church of the departed. They are a Church within the Church. They are those whose names are written in Heaven. Such theories may be consistent and unobjectionable, as held by the Philosophic theologian, if held only as theories. It must be said of them, however, that they are modern. They were unknown till the sixteenth century. But it must not be supposed that any such ideal, invisible Church is the Church we read of in the New Testament. The Church to which we are “added” by Baptism is a definite organization, with definite officers and administrations, to whose keeping the Word of God is intrusted, to which promises are given with injunction of duties, which regularly meets for common worship and Christian instruction, and the pleading of the Sacrifice of Christ, which has powers of discipline, which is aggressive and Missionary in character, and has been often exposed to persecution. Such a Church cannot in the nature of the case be invisible. The invisible Church is only an idea. It cannot be an Institution in the world. It cannot have a history. It must be, therefore, the Visible Church that is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic throughout the world and in all ages. So much for the fact of its Unity. Its nature will be seen more fully from the other marks that distinguish it.

2. The Holiness of the Church needs but a word of explanation. It is not meant that all its members are inherently holy. The tares and the wheat grow together, not to be separated until the harvest. The Gospel net gathers in good and bad fishes. But the Church is Holy in origin, purpose and end. It is Holy because its Head is Holy. Its life is from the only Source of Holiness. All its instrumentalities for the fulfillment of its objects are Holy. The Holy Spirit is its vital breath and inspiration. It is One in Christ in Whom it lives and Who is in it the hope of glory. The Scripture passages which directly and indirectly assert the Holiness of the visible Church are numerous and must be familiar to students of the Bible.

3. The Catholicity of the Church is less understood. The term “Catholic” was first applicable to the Church for this reason : The Jewish Church was national, it was intended only for the Jewish people. But the Christian Church was intended to embrace both Jews and Gentiles in one Body. It was to be general, universal. In this sense the Epistles of SS. James, Peter, Jude and John, written to Christians generally are called Catholic, or as our version has it, general Epistles. But in process of time “Catholic ” came to mean very nearly the same as Orthodox. During the first five centuries, heresies arose and resulted in various schisms from the Church. The small or large, generally unorthodox bodies thus created, were Sects. They were split off from the Main Trunk. Each might preserve more or less of sound doctrine. Some might be substantially Orthodox. They might retain the Apostolic Ministry. But they had broken the Church’s Unity, and Catholic designated the One Church, the Church in contradistinction to the sects which had severed themselves from its life, which, after a longer or shorter period, lost their vitality, became secularized, and merged into the world. The Catholic Church was the One Church throughout the world, embracing many national Churches, each with its various Dioceses, all preserving with each other an unbroken communion and fellowship. The Church then in any country, town or city, in communion with the general undivided Church, would be the Catholic Church of the place, and the Faith held by it was the Catholic Faith. The schism between the East and West, which, because complete and final in the eleventh century, was the utter disruption of Catholic Unity. The Western Church, with Rome as the centre and bond of Union, claimed exclusive Catholicity, while the Eastern Churches, reaching back to Apostolic times, and holding firmly the Catholic Faith, and under the government of the Apostolic Ministry, called themselves Orthodox and Catholic. The Reformation in the sixteenth century divided the West. The National Catholic Church of England reformed itself, declaring its independence of the Papacy. So did Sweden, and Denmark, and Switzerland, and Germany, but in the three latter the Apostolic Ministry, which had been deemed essential, could not be retained as was then generally supposed, without communion in what were felt to be corruptions, which were uncatholic and soul-destroying. The Catholic Faith, it was believed, could only be preserved by separation. The loss of the Episcopacy was deplored, but was regarded as only temporary. But the non-Episcopal Churches of the continent have been Catholic only so far as Orthodox in Doctrine, and with the loss of the Episcopacy, Catholicity of Doctrine has been imperiled.

The crime of breaking the Unity of the Church lies chiefly at the door of Rome. The theory of Rome being the Mother and Mistress of all Churches and of the Pope’s supremacy in all Christendom was uncatholic. It was unknown as a Dogma till the time of Hildebrand in the eleventh century. The additions to the Faith in the Creed of Pius IV, imposed on pain of Anathemas, were all uncatholic. Corruptions of practice, such as the sale of indulgences, were even harder to bear. The Reformation was necessary. It was in the air. It was inevitable. No fair-minded student of the History of those times can withhold his sympathy from Luther, Melancthon and other Reformers, especially in their early efforts at reform. The Eastern Churches, though not of the progressive races and lacking powers of self-propagation and Missionary life, we believe to be more Catholic in other respects than Rome which arrogates to itself the title. But by the Canons of Catholicity in the early Church, before the separation of the East and West, the Church of England and her daughter Churches of America and her colonies, are the most truly Catholic of all existing Churches.

The received doctrine of Catholicity has become considerably modified in the course of History. The Catholic Church in the general sense is the aggregate of Churches which hold the doctrines of the ancient Creeds and preserve through unbroken succession of the Ministry, an Apostolic organization and historical identity with the primitive Church. An actual intercommunion must not be held as essential, so there be a willingness for such interchange and fellowship as soon as the causes which have interrupted it and rendered it for the time impossible, are removed. Thus, efforts have been made on the part of our own and the English Churches for intercommunion with the Churches of the East, which are believed by those who have most carefully examined the questions involved, to present no insuperable obstacles to the mutual recognition of brotherhood and the interchange of offices of love. Our own Church, through its College of Bishops, has recently laid down the essential conditions on which the members of Protestant Communions may return and be welcomed to Catholic Unity. It is deemed sufficient if they hold the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God, and the Catholic Faith of the Apostles’ Creed and that of Nicaea in their Catholic interpretation; the two Sacraments of the Gospel, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, administered duly in matter and form; and are willing to receive the historic Episcopate with all that is essential in it, which, of course, includes Confirmation, Ordination, and a moderate, canonical Episcopal regimen and superintendency. Less than these things could not be asked. They are the minimum of things deemed essential. Favorable responses will doubtless come in time. May the Lord hasten the time, when they “all may be one, as Thou Father art in me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me” (S. John xvii, 21).

All are members of the Holy Catholic Church who have been baptized with water in the Name of the Holy Trinity. All Churches are Catholic in which the pure word of God is preached and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all that is requisite or necessary to the same, by those who have been duly commissioned. There may be wide differences of usage and of ritual, and of theological opinions outside of the Faith, which is not of opinion merely, and a true Catholicity be in no wise put in jeopardy. Catholic never means charitable,” ”liberal,” or latitudinarian.”

Lastly, the Church is Catholic now as in primitive times in distinction from Sectarian. A Sect is, strictly speaking, a body which unduly magnifies some special doctrine for the sake of which it was led into separation, and which makes this doctrine a test of orthodoxy and a term of Communion. Often other important doctrines are left out of view. A true doctrine, held and emphasized without regard to the analogy of the Faith, may become almost, if not quite, a heresy. Sometimes the peculiarity of the Sect is simply a denial. There is something you must not believe, if you would become a member. You must not believe the Deity of Jesus Christ, if you would join a Unitarian Society. You must not be a Calvinist, if you join the Body whose fundamental tenet is Free Will. If’you would join any Sect of Baptists, you must not believe in infant Church membership. Catholic is comprehensive. A Church that is Catholic cannot exclude repenting sinners, trusting in Christ and professing to “believe all the articles of the Christian Faith as contained in the Apostles’ Creed.” The Catholic does not exalt non-essentials into fundamentals. A Catholic Church makes no new terms of Communion. It receives all who would be received by Christ. If any Church, as the Roman, does not do this, its Catholicity is so far imperfect. It stands on Sectarian ground. No Sect, as such, can be Catholic, for no Sect could embrace all true Christians. This comprehensive character is essential to true Catholicity.

Shameful, indeed, it is that true American Catholics should disown the name! Why should we concede to another Communion its exclusive use? Let us always claim and maintain our rightful heritage of Catholicity.

4. As to our last point a definition must suffice. The Church is Apostolic, as “continuing steadfastly in the Apostles’ Doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers ” (Acts ii, 43). The Doctrine of the Church as the Apostles received it, and as once for all delivered; fellowship in the organization which they established, as the Lord, before His ascension, taught them when “speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Acts i, 4), and as His Spirit guided them, bringing His words to remembrance, and determining their application; participation of the Sacramental elements by which we feed upon His Body and Blood; and the public service of Common Prayer and Liturgy after Apostolic precept and example: these mark a Church’s Apostolicity.

I have detained you long, but less could not be said on such a subject.

In conclusion, I would remind you that the glory of a Churchman is in being truly a Christian. He may belong to a Church which is Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, and one with the Church which was gathered at Jerusalem, in an unbroken succession through the ages, and yet fail of Salvation at the last. He may belong to the narrowest and most heretical of Sects, or may be of a Church that is well nigh apostate, and yet be chosen of God to be crowned with those who “come up out of great tribulation.” You belong to a Church which has every mark of the true Church of Christ. It is an exceedingly precious privilege. The results should be seen in your lives. It will all be in vain that you call yourselves Catholics, or by any other name that might seem to recommend you, if you are not in living union with Christ, and if you do not love and serve Him.

Amen

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Sermon preached on June 28, 2009

Let the Word of Christ Dwell in Your Richly

Col. 3:16

For the past few days since Michael Jackson died, the radio has been filled with his songs, and on television we have seen countless replays of his famous music videos.  As we heard those familiar lyrics again, I was reminded of how the words to those songs became ingrained in a whole generation of young people.  I was in my late teens when  songs by the Jackson 5 began to top the charts and songs like, I’ll Be There, Never Can Say Good-bye, and Michael’s solo on Got to Be There, became thoroughly embedded in my mind, and I can still sing along and never miss a beat as far as the words are concerned.  Although I didn’t pay as much attention to Michael Jackson’s career after the 1970s, many people did, and it could be said of millions of people, “the words of Michael Jackson dwell in them richly.”

            Last week, I was in a book store and I had some time to kill, so I went to the entertainment section and found a book on interpreting the lyrics of the Beatles.  Next to exegeting the Bible, one of my favorite pastimes is exploring the meaning of the lyrics to the Beatles, which again, I must confess to knowing most of the lyrics to their songs by heart.  In a sense, I could say that the words of Lennon and McCartney dwell in me richly.

            What words dwell in you richly?  The other night at the Men’s Bible study, we were sitting around swapping lines from some of our favorite movies, and some of the men were amazed that some of us could quote lines verbatim from a wide variety of movies.  I could throw out lines from movies right now, and I would venture to say that many people here could tell me what movie those words came from and the actor that said them and the character’s name.  The words of pop culture dwell in us richly.

            For some people, it may not be the words of pop culture that dwell in them richly, but instead, the words of newspapers, magazines, talk shows, and political pundits are constantly ringing in their ears and embedded in their hearts.  For others, the words of philosophers, poets, and novelists dwell richly in their hearts.  When I was working on my doctorate, one of my professors was telling a story about one of his former professors, who could quote page after page of a certain poet.  He had devoted his entire life to the study of that poet and memorizing his words.  Sadly, it seems that we are entering a time when no words of any kind are going to dwell richly in us.  We are becoming more and more of a visual culture that does not read, does not think and meditate, does not memorize the words of great writers and thinkers.  All that seems to dwell in us are images that flash momentarily across a television screen, but which remain impressed on our minds and hearts.  But whether we like it or not, something dwells in us richly.  It may be words or images, but something holds an abundant place in our minds.

            In Col. 3:16, Paul tells us, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”  There are some religions in which ritual, without much thought, predominate, but that has never been true of genuine Christianity.  Our faith has always been a religion of the word.  We have been studying in our Sunday School class on II Peter how God moved holy men of old to write the Holy Scriptures and how the very words of God himself have been written down, preserved, and handed down to us so that we can say that what we are reading is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God.  God gave us his word so that it might dwell in us richly.  Paul refers to the word here as the “word of Christ.”  When Paul used this phrase he would have used it to include all of Scripture in the Old Testament and the words of Christ that were in the process of being written at that time and the word that was being spoken by the apostles concerning who Jesus Christ is and what he came into the world to do. 

The Old Testament itself is the word of Christ.  In I Peter 1:10-11, we read,

“Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:  Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.  You see, the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ was in the Old Testament prophets, inspiring them what to write.  So, the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation is the word of Christ.  When Jesus was teaching the Apostles after his resurrection, we read, “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:44-46). 

There was no completed New Testament such as we now have. When the apostles preached Christ, they were preaching about him from the Old Testament.  So, this word that was to dwell in them richly were all the truths from the Old Testament that concerned our Lord Jesus Christ, plus, the word that was being given to them through the Apostles concerning the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Now, if the word of Christ was to dwell in these people richly, how much more should it dwell in us richly since we have for us, in written form, the final revelation of God’s word to us.  We have the New Testament, which these Colossians did not have.  What an advantage we have over them!  Sadly, we make little use of this great blessing.

            We have more Bibles, more Bible commentaries, more Bible dictionaries, more Bible study aids than in the history of mankind, and yet we live in a largely, Biblically illiterate culture.  There is really no excuse for us, other than laziness, that the word of Christ does not dwell in us richly.

            What can we do to ensure that the word of Christ will dwell in us richly?  First, we must be devoted to the reading of Holy Scripture.  Read from the Scriptures on a daily basis.  Get involved in some kind of daily Bible reading program that will take you through the Bible on a disciplined course.  I was reading about a famous preacher the other day and he read the Bible through over 50 times during his life.  For Anglicans, you should at least use the daily readings for Morning and Evening Prayer that are in the front of the Book of Common Prayer.  There are also many other systems available to keep you on track to read the Bible through once a year.  In these days, we have CDs that contain the whole Bible so that we can even listen to them in the car.  Our ipods and iphones can give us instant access to the Bible anywhere we might be.  Certainly, if you want the word of Christ to dwell in you richly, you should read the word of Christ.

            But it is not enough merely to read the word of God.  You can read the word of God constantly and yet never have it dwell in you.  To have the word of God dwell in you means that it is in the center of your being, always on your mind and heart, molding you and motivating you in all that you do, controlling all your words and actions.  As Spurgeon put it, “Oh, to have “the word of Christ” always dwelling inside of us — in the memory, never forgotten; in the heart, always loved; in the understanding, really grasped; with all the powers and passions of the mind fully submitted to its control!”

            If you would have the word of Christ to dwell in you in this way, not  only should you read the word of Christ, you should memorize it.  The Psalmist said, “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.”  The Apostle Paul says in our text that the word of Christ should “dwell” in us.  The word of God should be living in us, abiding in us, just as you dwell in a house.  Your heart, your soul, your mind, should be a house where the word of Christ is a treasured guest.  Memorizing the word of Christ is one of the means through which the word of Christ abides with you, never to leave.  I wish you could hear our young people on Sunday evenings.  Each week, I give them a new verse of Scripture to memorize, and they are quite faithful in memorizing those verses.  If they can learn a verse each week, you could do the same.  I began this sermon this morning talking about how we know the complete lyrics to hundreds of worldly songs.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we knew the word of Christ the way we knew the songs of the world?

            Third, not only should you read and memorize the word of Christ, you should study and meditate upon it.  As I said earlier, there are more Bible study helps available now than ever before.  You don’t even have to buy a great number of books now because there are many websites that you can visit that have sound Bible study materials.  But you must do more than simply read and study, you must meditate on the word of Christ.  By meditating, I mean earnestly thinking about the words of Christ, running them through your mind over and over, applying those words to your own heart and life, turning those words into prayer as you ask the Holy Spirit to apply those words to your life so that you might live in obedience to them, understand the truths that are there, and conform your life to these words.  The Psalmist said,  Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. (Ps. 1:1-2).  If you meditate on the word day and night, it will dwell in you richly and be a constant guest in your heart and mind.

            Fourth, if you want the word of Christ to dwell in you richly, attend a church in which the word of Christ dwells richly.  It is an interesting thing that in so many churches that emphasize the importance of the Bible, they don’t read the bible much in their services.  The pastor may use a text of Scripture as a starting place for his sermon, but other than that, little attention is given to the reading of Scripture in the service.  We can say that in our church services here, the word of Christ dwells richly.  Every Sunday we have an epistle reading and a gospel reading.  On the Sundays we have Morning Prayer, we even have four Scripture readings.  The word of Christ dwells here richly as we read the word of God.

            Not only does the word of Christ dwell here richly through our reading of Holy Scripture, but our entire liturgy is based on the word of God, using the word of God, throughout our worship service.  Sometimes, you may wonder, why do we do the same services over and over, use the same prayers over and over.  Well, this is one of the methods by which the word of Christ comes to dwell in you richly.  I suppose that many of you now could do the whole service of Holy Communion without even looking at the Prayer Book.  Repetition is a law of learning, and as you repeat these words over and over, they are absorbed into your heart and mind just the way those lyrics to those songs are absorbed as you listen to them again and again. 

            We repeat the same liturgy again and again, because it is one of the important means by which the word of Christ comes to dwell in us.  It is true, especially in the Anglican faith, that we emphasize the beauty of our rites and ceremonies, but these rites and ceremonies, our sacraments, are never divorced from the word.  Without the word instructing, explaining, our ceremonies would be robbed of their power and significance.  This is why such great care was taken in the composing of our liturgy, because words do have power.  The words that are used in the Book of Common Prayer were weighed very carefully so that we could be sure that when we are saying them, when we are praying them, we know that the words that we are using are pleasing to God.  It is for this reason, that the phrases and sentences used are taken directly out of the Bible itself.  For this reason, we get a little concerned when people want to change the wording of the Prayer Book, because the changes in the wording may reflect a theological shift.  We are certain, however, that when we use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, that the words we are saying, the words that are being burned into our souls are the words of Christ, for they were taken out of Holy Scripture.

            Then, if you would have the word of Christ dwell in you richly, attend a church that emphasizes the preaching and teaching of the word of Christ.  Let me remind you again, that in the days of the early church and for many centuries of the church, people didn’t have their own personal copies of the Bible.  Most of the people couldn’t have read them if they had them.  How did the word of Christ dwell in them richly?  It dwelt in them richly because of the liturgy and the preaching of the word of God.  It is through the powerful teaching and preaching of the word of God, that the word of Christ comes to dwell in our souls.  Reading, memorizing, studying, and meditating all have their place, but it has been primarily through preaching, down through the centuries, that the word of Christ has come to dwell in people’s hearts.  Again, this is what we emphasize at St. Paul’s.  We have Sunday School, we have Bible studies, and my sermons are expositions of the words of Christ.  It is true that we do not have some of the programs that some churches have.  It is true that we don’t have the kinds of activities that attract certain young people who have to have the fun and games.  At St. Paul’s we have no interest in entertaining people.  We have one mission: that the word of Christ would dwell in you richly. 

In the 119th Psalm, we find a man in whom the word of God dwelt richly.  Listen to him as he says,

I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches (14).  Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors. (24) Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. (35)  My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes. (48).  The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver. (72).  O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. (97) Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold. 

Here at St. Paul’s, we offer something greater than riches, greater than gold and silver—we offer the word of Christ.  Why should we offer this world amusements when we offer them the word of Christ which will save their souls and fill their hearts with unfathomable riches.  The word of Christ is enough, and if it is not enough, then we have nothing, I mean, nothing else to offer you.  We are not an amusement park; we are not the Little League or the junior league; we are not the boy scouts or the girl scouts, we are not the Lion’s Club or the Rotary Club; we are not a baptized version of a rock concert or a sitcom; we are not the Glee Club or a Choral Society for people who like to sing sophisticated music.    We are the place where the word of Christ dwells richly so that the word of Christ might dwell in you richly. 

Let us continue to pray for the people in this city, that God would give people a spiritual thirst, a spiritual hunger, for when God gives people a true spiritual thirst, they will begin a desperate search to find those people, that church, where the word of Christ dwells richly.  They will hunger and thirst, not after amusement and entertainment, but after righteousness.  Let us be faithful, let us continue to be that people where the word of Christ dwells richly, and then, pray, that God, in his own time, and in his own way, will direct people to find the wealth that is possessed by those people in whom the word of Christ dwells richly. 

Amen.

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Independence Day Sermon preached on July 5, 2009

“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. For the needy shall not alway be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever. Arise, O LORD; let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in thy sight. Put them in fear, O LORD: that the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah.”

Psalm 97:17-20

            Yesterday, we celebrated our independence as a nation.  When we look over the history of mankind, and compare ourselves even with the nations that exist around the globe now, we marvel that we, as a people, have such independence, such freedom.  We should celebrate the fact that we have the wonderful freedoms to choose the way of life we want to pursue.  We have so many occupational freedoms, educational freedoms, political freedoms, and religious freedoms.  As our forefathers celebrated their freedom from the tyranny of a king, the tyranny of a government that oppressed them, we continue to celebrate that no despot has absolute control over every facet of our lives.

            But sadly, many people in our nation, and I think we can say, the majority of people in our nation, and certainly our political leaders, have taken this idea of freedom to an extreme—the deadly extreme of declaring our independence from God.  In our desire to be free from the tyranny of wicked king, we have also manifested our desire to be free from the sovereign king of heaven and earth.    In our desire to be free, we have proclaimed that we want to be free from the law of God.   In the words of the Psalmist, we have forgotten God.

            Now, when I say that we have forgotten God, I don’t mean that we never think of him.  We think of him, occasionally.  We ask his blessings before a high school football game.  Even Congress opens its sessions with a prayer to an ecumenical God, as long as the name of his Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords is not mentioned.  We go through these rituals, asking for the blessing of God, and then proceed to put him out of our minds and thoughts.    Actually, this god that we think of when we say, God Bless America, is not really the God of Scripture at all, but rather a nebulous sort of presence that we have invented to make us feel like we are still a God-fearing nation.  The God of Holy Scripture has long since been forgotten, forgotten even by the churches themselves, much less the nation as a whole.  The God of Scripture has been marginalized, put into a corner as a figurehead, but who must not ever be allowed to enter into public life, especially the life of our government.  You see, forgetting God does not mean that you never think of him.  In Scripture, forgetting God means that you refuse to obey him, that you refuse to regulate your conduct as an individual, as a nation, according to his holy laws.  In Deut. 8:11, we read, “Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day.”  You see from this verse how Scripture defines “forgetting God.”  Forgetting God is not keeping his commandments, his judgments, his statutes.

            What happens to those people and those nations that forget God.  The Psalmist tells us that they shall be turned into hell.  The word that is translated “hell” in this verse is the word “sheol” which can mean hell, the eternal condition of torment experienced by the ungodly, or it can mean “grave.”  This is the word Jacob used in Gen. 44:29, when he said, “And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.”  Jacob wasn’t saying that he was going to hell.  He was just saying that he was going to the grave.  Certainly, those who forget God, those who refuse the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord will experience the agony eternal separation from God.  But when we read of nations being turned into Sheol, what does the Psalmist have in mind.   He means that the nation will die, cease to exist, and be forgotten.  In Job 7:9– As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more. The word here for “grave” is Sheol.  For a nation to be turned into Sheol means that it will die and that is will not rise again.  In Ps. 31:17– Let me not be ashamed, O LORD; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.  For a nation to be turned into hell, means that it will never speak again, never be heard from again.  In Isaiah 14 we read a prophecy about how God is going to judge the king of Babylon.  Isaiah 14: 4 That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased…. 11 Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.  For nation to be turned into Sheol means that no matter how glorious a nation might have become, that glory, that wealth, that power, that splendor, can be lost, and figuratively speaking, perhaps literally, the worms eat it. 

            As we look at our nation today, could it be said that we are in danger of being turned into hell, turned into Sheol?  Could it be said that we are already being turned into Sheol?  Don’t get me wrong.  I love this nation.  There is no place I would rather live, simply because of the freedom and the prosperity we enjoy.  But the glory of a nation does not rest in its prosperity, its military might, or its freedom.  The glory of a nation resides in its righteousness, in its obedience to the law of God.  As the wise man said in Prov. 14:34– Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.  As we look at our country, with its widespread sexual immorality, its determination to live for pleasure and pleasure alone, its sanctioning and support of abortion, its greed and selfishness, we are becoming a reproach, a thing of shame.  When a nation forgets God, when it continues to rebel against his laws, it invites the judgment of God, and the judgment of God is that just as that nation forgot him, he will cause that nation to be forgotten.

            Is there any hope for a nation that seems to be on the verge of being turned into Sheol?  In our text for this morning, the Psalmist prays, “Put them in fear, O LORD: that the nations may know themselves to be but men.”  The cure for our arrogance and our pride, the cure for our forgetfulness of God and our refusal to live in obedience to his law to remember that we are just men.  That seems to be a strange thing to say.  We need to remember that we are just men.  What else would we think ourselves to be?  It’s obvious, isn’t it?  We think we are God.  The reason we forget God is that we come to the place where we think we no longer need him.  The reason we forget God is because that we believe that we are no longer accountable to him, to anyone but ourselves.  This is why we have cast God’s law behind our backs—we are more enlightened now.  By our own reasoning, we can come up with a better way to live our lives.  We don’t need an objective standard of truth, an eternal standard of right and wrong given by God himself.  We can decide for ourselves what is right and wrong.   With the scientific advances that we are making, we seem to think that we are on the verge of becoming gods.  Now that we have uncovered the power of the atom, now that we have learned how to manipulate DNA, perhaps we are on the verge of immortality itself.  Perhaps we will be able to clone ourselves, download our consciousness into the memory bank of a computer.   We will control the weather.  We will conquer all forms of disease.    Surely, we think that we are more than men.

            Every time we think we are close to becoming gods, the Lord reveals to us that we are but men after all.  Early on in our history, we got the idea that we would build a tower to reach into the heavens and become gods, so the Lord confused our language.  Every time we think that we have reached the place where we no longer need God, he reminds us of our frailty.  Every time we think that we have somehow become morally superior, a war breaks out to reveal that deep down inside, man is just a cruel, depraved animal.   Every time we think that we are on the verge of conquering death, a new disease makes its appearance, and we find that we are frail human beings after all.   As a matter of fact, the word that the Psalmist uses in verse 20 for “men” is a word that emphasizes the frailty, the weakness, of man.    We need to be reminded that not only are we just men, we are weak, fragile, mortal men.    During the past couple of weeks, the deaths of some of America’s most popular icons have reminded us that no matter what we may achieve or accomplish in this life, we are just men, just women.  We have seen the deaths of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, the comedian Fred Travelena, and even the Oxyclean pitchman Billy Mays.  All of these deaths serve as reminders that no matter how famous, popular, wealthy, or beautiful, we are but men.  All of us tend to think, especially when we are young, that we are special.  Our strength will never fail, our beauty will never fade, and death will never come for us.  In that false feeling of confidence, tend to forget God.  We come to think that we are in control and that we will determine our own destiny.  But the years have a way of revealing to us that we are but men.

            Just as individuals need to realize this truth, nations must ponder this fact as well.  The United States of America is not unique or special in this sense among the long list of nations and empires come before us.  We are just a nation like all the nations that have come before us, a nation of mere men.  Several years ago, a famous preacher wrote a book entitled, “America Is too Young to Die.”  What he was pointing out is that in comparison with some of the other great nations and empires of the world, the United States is a baby, still in the crib playing with its toes.  When we think of all the great empires that have existed in the world, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, the different dynasties that existed in China and Japan, how old are we in comparison?   We have this arrogant assumption that the United States is going to last forever, or that perhaps we are part of some great prophetic plan about the end of the world.    It may be, that because we have forgotten God, we may be forgotten even by history.  A thousand years from now, two thousand years from now, the history of this country may take up a paragraph or two in a brief survey of world history.  In that sense, we are nothing special.  Remember how the Lord said in Isaiah 40: 15] Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.
[16] And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.
[17] All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.  That is the United States of America.  The drop of a bucket, dust in a balance, nothing, and less than nothing.  God could bring this nation to nothing this afternoon, and his plan and purpose would not be thwarted, delayed, or disappointed.  We could be turned into Sheol and forgotten tomorrow, but God would still be God and he would still work all things according to the good counsel of his will.

            Of course, as individuals, we don’t believe this.  As a nation, we don’t believe it.  We are independent.  We don’t need God and we don’t need his law.  Is there anything that could happen that could prevent us from being turned into Sheol as a result of this arrogance.  Yes.  We need God to arise and put his fear into our hearts.   Now, the Lord can arise and put his fear into our hearts in one of two ways.  First, he could send terrible judgment upon our nation in the form of all kinds of disasters in order to get us to realize how much we need him.  If we look through the Old Testament, we see how often God sent foreign armies, plagues, droughts, famine.  Sometimes, God had his people carried away into captivity in order that they might know who they were and who God was.  In the Book of Ezekiel, God threatens his people with severe punishment, and time and again, after each threat, God says that the purpose of all this punishment was so that the people might know, that I am the Lord.  For example, in Ezekiel 6 we read:  [1] And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
[2] Son of man, set thy face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them,
[3] And say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord GOD; Thus saith the Lord GOD to the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys; Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places.
[4] And your altars shall be desolate, and your images shall be broken: and I will cast down your slain men before your idols.
[5] And I will lay the dead carcasses of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars.
[6] In all your dwellingplaces the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished.
[7] And the slain shall fall in the midst of you, and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
[8] Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries.
[9] And they that escape of you shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.
[10] And they shall know that I am the LORD, and that I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them.
[11] Thus saith the Lord GOD; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.
[12] He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remaineth and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus will I accomplish my fury upon them.
[13] Then shall ye know that I am the LORD, when their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars, upon every high hill, in all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak, the place where they did offer sweet savour to all their idols.
[14] So will I stretch out my hand upon them, and make the land desolate, yea, more desolate than the wilderness toward Diblath, in all their habitations: and they shall know that I am the LORD.

If God intends to save this land of ours from this sin of forgetting the Lord, it may be that these are the kinds of measures he must take.  Sometimes, his judgments have to come in this form before his fear will once again resume its rightful place in the hearts of people.

            But there is another way in which God could arise and put his fear in us, and that is through powerful preaching of his word through the power of the Holy Spirit.  I know that we are living in a time when it appears that the preaching of God’s word has no effect.  Thousands of sermons will be preached this day, but will be said afterward that God truly arose and put his fear in the hearts of his people?   Nevertheless, God is still God, and God the Holy Spirit could attend the preaching of his word even this day with power, hearts could be changed across this land, and God would be honored as God in every institution of our society.  When we think of what judgments it may take to put his fear into our hearts once again, how we need to pray that God would be merciful to us, and ordain that it would be through the preaching of his word that his fear would arise in our hearts.  It is this merciful method that we pray for in the words of our hymn:

God the All-merciful!  Earth hath forsken

Thy ways all holy, and slighted thy word;

Bid not thy wrath in its terrors awaken:

Give to us peace in our time, O Lord.

We don’t want God wrath to awaken with all its terrors.  May God be merciful to us, and plant his fear in our hearts through the preaching of his holy gospel.

            But whether it is through preaching or through the wrath of his judgment, God can reveal himself to be God, and reveal to us that we are mere men.  This is our only hope, or else we shall be turned into Sheol.  But we have this hope, this confidence, that God, in his providence,  can arise, and he can put his fear in our hearts.  This hope is expressed in the words of our closing hymn:

God the All-provident! Earth by thy chast’ning,

Yet shall to freedom and truth be restored;

Through the thick darkness thy kingdom is hast’ning

Thou wilt give peace in thy time, O Lord. 

Amen.

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