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As members of the Anglican Communion know, for better or worse, we are a broad church.

In light of a recent exchange on this site, it seems useful to clarify the Anglican position on private confession and how it arose again in our denomination’s history.

With regard to our broad church, we have Reformed Anglicans (Calvinists), Evangelical Anglicans, Anglo-Catholics — as well as the majority who find themselves somewhere in the middle. When I worshipped in the Episcopal Church in the United States, we referred to High (Anglo-Catholic) and Low (mainstream) Church. I belonged to a Low Church but occasionally visited a High Church with friends.

Whilst my experience is limited in the grand scheme of things, I did not and do not know anyone in the Anglican Communion — clergy or layperson — in the offline world who recommends private confession outside of a case of serious sin. It is not a spiritual discipline to be practised regularly, even among my Anglo-Catholic friends. This isn’t saying there are not Anglo-Catholics who recommend it, but I have not encountered it among those with whom I have worshipped over the past 30 years.

Australia and private confession

Private confession — called ‘auricular confession’ — in the Anglican Church in Australia made the news in July 2014. Church leaders have voted to ‘lift the seal’ of the private confession, enabling Anglican priests to go to the police if they hear of a crime revealed or contemplated. Child abuse and molestation are the primary motivators for a priest’s going to the authorities.

It should be noted that, where private confession is used in the Anglican Church, it differs from the Roman Catholic practice. Writing about the Australian developments for Patheos, the Revd George Conger explains (emphases mine, except where indicated otherwise):

Private confession in the Catholic Church takes place in the context of the sacrament of reconciliation followed by absolution.

Private confession in the Anglican world is not a sacrament, and was denounced as one of the abuses practiced by the Medieval church and was dropped by the English Church following the Reformation.

Conger then cites the Anglican Book of Homilies, which forms part of our doctrine.

Those who are interested can read Church of England denouncements of auricular confession in the Church Association’s Tract 27. Not one of our early Church leaders supported it. All said it was — and is — unbiblical.

One of them, John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury in the 16th century, wrote that priests were to preach the Gospel, not hear confessions:

Christ’s disciples did receive this authority, not that they should hear private confessions of the people, and listen to their whisperings, as the common massing priests do everywhere now-a-days, and do it so as though in that one point lay all the virtue and use of the keys, but to the end they should go, they should teach, they should publish abroad the Gospel, and be unto the believing the sweet savour of life unto life, and unto the unbelieving and unfaithful a savour of death unto death.”

— Apology, vol. iii. pp. 60, 61. Parker Soc. Edition

Conger said that in extreme cases, auricular confession was heard, however:

it was never a mandatory part of the practice of the faith.

Furthermore, by contrast with the Catholic Church:

The Book of Common Prayer, the Homilies, the Articles of Religion and other sources of Anglican doctrine do not teach the doctrine that the priest acts in persona Christi or in persona Christi capitis

He adds (emphasis his):

This understanding that the priest is not acting in the person of Christ, coupled with the view of the Reformers that confession to a priest has no more merit or imparts no greater grace than to a layman, helps explain what is happening in Adelaide.

Conger concludes by alluding to the broad church of Anglicanism:

What we are seeing is a swing of the Anglican pendulum away from Anglo-Catholicism towards the Low Church or Evangelical wing. As the quotes from The Advertiser show, the Catholic wing of the Church (Archbishop Driver) is backing away from the hard line position on the sanctity of the confessional due to the clergy abuse scandals. The push has come from modernists who like the symbolism but are appalled by the abuses that have been protected by the seal of confession. The growing Evangelical wing never believed in auricular confession in the first place and is happy to see it go.

History of auricular confession in Anglicanism

Anglican Ink picks up on the Australian story and subsequent analysis both by churchmen and the media.

The author explains the history of private confession, stating that it was not even part of pre-Reformation religious practice until the Middle Ages. Henry VIII upheld this view in his Ten Articles of 1536.

In 1549, however, private confession was made optional in the Church of England. By 1552, the Second Edwardian Prayer Book

deleted the practice of auricular confession as well as a rubric in the service for the Visitation of the Sick which authorized a priest to use this form of absolution in all cases of private confession.

Furthermore:

By the Convocation of 1562 the move away from auricular confession appears to have been complete ...

The 39 Articles of Religion declined to number the penitential rite among the sacraments, while the Homilies went so far as to condemn sacramental confession as having “no warrant of God” and had been imposed upon Christians “in the time of blindness and ignorance.” 

This trajectory was continued in the 1662 BCP which offered a doctrine of the ministry incompatible with an ontology of the priesthood that could permit a priest to offer absolution (one of the arguments used against the validity of Anglican orders by Roman Catholics). The BCP also offered no rite for private auricular confession

It was only in the 19th century that private confession became a topic for discussion again:

It made its return with the rise of the Anglo-Catholic movement – and private auricular confession became one of the issues of the ritualist controversies of the day. Anglo-Catholic leaders, then as now, sought to defend the practice by reference to two portions of the 1662 BCP. (They advanced other arguments but these lay outside their Anglican heritage and are not germane to this note.) …

This permission to provide private counsel and absolution was seen by the Anglo-Catholic party as a warrant to offer private auricular confession. Their opponents objected to this reading, arguing the passage was being taken out of historical and textual context.

Read in the context of the full Communion service, the private pastoral counsel of a minster sanctioned by this paragraph was for those unable to “quiet their conscience” by the ordinary “ways and means” set forth in the Exhortation and is for special casesnot for general purpose use.

Those who point to the Anglican rite of the Visitation of the Sick use this as support for regular private confession. However, as Anglican Ink explains, as the person receiving this rite is unable to participate in corporate worship and the public confession of sin, it is only logical that he receive the opportunity to do it privately from his sickbed.

Why public — ‘general’ — confession suffices

An AMIA (Anglican Mission in the Americas) church, Anglican Church of the Word in Florida, explains why we have the General Confession in our liturgy:

A general confession of sin by the whole congregation was an innovation of the 16th centuryEarlier, the Lord’s Prayer, which concluded the Prayer of Consecration and contained the phrase “forgive us as we forgive” sufficed.  No absolution was included for one of the benefits of Communion was understood to be the forgiveness of sins.

Today’s liturgies, whether traditional or modern, include a form of absolution. The suggested prayers of General Confession are varied. The Reformed Anglican Church page includes a prayer of absolution. This link has the full Book of Common Prayer (1662) liturgy for Holy Communion; the confession and absolution prayers are halfway down the page.

Faithful Anglicans should feel free to avail themselves of absolution at home, too. As John Welsh — a seminarian at the time he wrote the following — posits:

On the whole, unless an Anglican is of the Catholic tradition in the Anglican Church (ie, they are catholic to all intents and purposes except they reject the authority of the pope), then Anglicans do not go to confession.That does not mean that they do not confess their sins! At almost every Anglican service there is an act of confession and absolution, and Anglicans take sin just as seriously as Catholics. However, the vast majority of Anglicans do not see the need to confess to a priest as an intermediary, but confess directly to God, as per the early Church practices and reject entirely the Catholic tradition of ‘having’ to go to confession on, say, a weekly basis. Instead they confess their sins when they need to, directly to God, whether as part of a service or not.

Conclusion: Regular private confession is an unorthodox Anglican practice and should be used sparingly, if at all.

The broader Protestant perspective on confession

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) answers the question regarding the Reformers’ scriptural objection to private confession. This is well worth reading. Excerpts follow:

to summarize the biblical evidence, private confession to an individual, specifically a priest, is simply not supported. There is confession of sin to God alone, there is a place for public and corporate confession of sin, and from James 5:16 a place for confessing sin to another believer (is this tied into Matt. 5:23-24?) But the Roman Catholic idea of auricular confession (confession into the ear of a priest) does not have biblical support or warrant and seems to have originated during the Middle Ages.

What the Reformed churches did was to take the public confession of sin that had been in the Roman Catholic mass and removed all references to the intercession of the saints and focused the attention of people on sin’s offensiveness to God. Here is the way one scholar described it:

“There followed at once [in the Reformed order of worship] the prayer of confession as a congregational act. This replaced the private confession of the priest before the Mass, for here was a congregational priesthood.” [James Hastings Nichols, Corporate Worship in the Reformed Tradition, p.41]

The worship we are talking about is corporate or covenantal worship. It is the worship of the people of covenant as the people of God. We are together a sinful and guilty people; how can we come, as a covenant people, before a holy God if we do not confess our sins? While it is certainly true and biblical to confess our sins directly to God, the act of corporately confessing our sins has a covenantal character to it that is missing in the Roman Catholic practice of private or auricular confession, for behind that practice is the mistaken idea that the priest needs to stand between us and God. The Bible teaches that there is one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ the righteous (I Tim. 2:5). A priest has not power to absolve us of sin, only the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse and for that we can go directly to God (I John 1:9; 2:1).

As for other Protestant denominations, the OPC says:

the practices in the Anglican or Lutheran churches would mirror this Reformed understanding rather than what the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches practice, for all Protestants have rejected the notion of auricular confession to a priest.

Suggestions

Any time we read or hear something notionally doctrinal from clergy or laypeople, we would do well to check it against a) our denomination’s tenets of faith and b) Holy Scripture.

If b) disagrees with a), then a) is in error.

If what we read or hear is contrary to both a) and b), we should disregard it. Often, research reveals background agendas to erroneous pronouncements preached or written with authority and charm.

The Internet offers endless resources enabling us to investigate such matters in the privacy of our own homes as and when necessary. Let’s use them!

Those who are anxious for their own souls — for whatever reason — really should book an appointment with a local clergyman who can discuss their concerns with them. Clergy will be more than happy to do this; it is part of their ministry.

Speaking personally, Confession as received in my Catholic days made me more not less anxious because the ‘state of grace’ was so ephemeral before the next sin was committed! It was only when I started reading intensively about Christianity a few years ago that I learned about forgiveness, assurance and sanctification.

This is why I so often recommend regular prayer, faithful reading of the Bible and studying doctrine which reflects Scripture. Those who are baptised should ensure they also receive Holy Communion.

That’s my recipe for assurance and sanctification. If this proves insufficient, then discussions with a clergyperson are in order.

A post I wrote for Orphans of Liberty today looks at the effect women bishops will have on the popularity and membership of the Church of England (CofE).

What follows is a summary of that post.

First, there is the matter of how the victory was engineered. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that he’d received pressure from the government for the Synod to approve women bishops. Welby was ready to dissolve the Synod and reconvene it for another vote on the matter had it been defeated on July 14, 2014. In other words, keep voting until you get the ‘right’ result.

Second, no scriptural arguments were used, or at least these were not made public. Persuasion revolved around cultural norms and bringing the CofE into line with the 21st century.

Third, a number of Synod members who had voted against women bishops in 2012 changed their minds this year because they feared being deselected from the next Synod or were tired of the grief they received from people in their diocese.

It is clear that the CofE is increasingly moving away from scriptural tenets. The co-founder of Orphans of Liberty — and one of my readers — James Higham has written an excellent essay exploring why and how England’s established (state) church is failing.

Women bishops won’t fix a thing. (Women priests didn’t.) Nor will allowing single-sex church wedding ceremonies, which may well be a topic at the next Synod. Nor will support of euthanasia.

The CofE has become merely another social club which goes along with popular culture — the world — at every turn.

Who wants to get out of bed on a Sunday when one can get the same talking points from the media?

As I said at Orphans of Liberty, a small number of people will continue to go to other denominations or to independent churches which are faithful to the Bible.

Sadly, many more will choose to leave the Church altogether.

The CofE’s USP is its frequent Communion services. However, it is difficult to receive the Sacrament from a priest who embraces the world so fully, as many of our clergy do.

Yet, even there, Article XXVI of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion states:

… Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

That said, the Anglican Church is expected to depose such clergy. Article XXVI concludes:

Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed.

It should come as no surprise that the CofE considers the Thirty-nine Articles as ancient history to be disregarded.

Much the same way they consider Holy Scripture: old-fashioned and out-of-date.

One of the drawbacks of being a church member is putting up with busybodies.

We all sin and churchgoers are no exception. Few things are as irritating or dispiriting as the church member who enjoys butting in to others’ business and pointing out their weaknesses.

Yes, they cite Scripture. Yes, they’re probably right.

But what if the person they are criticising is already aware of their own particular shortcomings?

We can become impatient with others’ sins, mainly because we sin differently.

I often wonder, however, if church busybodies criticise others they see as less gifted in the faith in order to make themselves look better.

The Revd Matt Kennedy is an Anglican priest and rector of Good Shepherd Church in Binghamton, New York. He is a regular columnist at Stand Firm.

His recent article ‘Speaking into Someone’s Life’ has seven excellent questions we should consider before interfering in someone else’s affairs.

Kennedy cites the verses troublemakers often use in order to justify their interference: Galatians 6:1-2 and Galatians 5:16-24.

His article has something for all of us, even if we do not fall into the category of busybody or troublemaker.

What follows are his seven questions someone should answer before interfering. Notional ‘love’ may come across as spite or one-upmanship, both of which hurt:

1. Is what I am planning to say true in an objective sense or just reflective of my own feelings? (expressing your feelings and speaking the truth are not synonymous. Scripture is the guide here, not your heart)

2. Is the person caught up in a sin or is he/she merely getting on my nerves? (a personality clash is not a reason to “confront” someone)

3. Do I have a past history of strife, jealousy, enmity or anger with this person? (If so, you probably aren’t the person to “restore gently”)

4. Do I genuinely want to help the person…am I willing to invest the time to meet, discuss, share my own struggles, and help this person escape from the sin I’ve observed? (if not, you’re not qualified to speak)

5. Is it something that the person knows about already and is trying to work on? If so, how would it be helpful for you to point out again what he/she already knows?

6. Do I have the ability to speak with gentleness and kindness or am I a battle axe? (if you don’t know, ask your wife, husband or closest friends. If you’re not kind, leave it for someone else)

7. Have I been praying for this person in private regularly? (If not, chances are that your heart is not in the right place)

How many church busybodies have examined their consciences in this area before opening their mouths?

That said, St Paul counsels the Galatians (Galatians 6:1):

But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

No doubt, the time will come when most of us will feel the need to criticise or interfere unprofitably. This is why Mr Kennedy’s questions — and our answers — are so important.

Members of the Anglican Church in North America — ACNA — are delighted at the appointment of the Rt Revd Foley Beach as their new archbishop.

Bishop Beach was previously the first bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the South, a post he held from 2010 to the present. From the comments on Stand Firm it would appear that Beach will continue as Bishop of the Diocese of the South.

By all accounts, it would appear that he is a godly, humble man who enjoys teaching and preaching the Gospel to others. He does not compromise on liturgy, either.

Prior to his new appointment, he wrote an article summarising a bishop’s duties. Here are the first four — three more follow, so be sure to drop by his website to read more:

1. Teaching the Word of God, the Bible.

2. Defending the Christian Faith. We have a faith which has been handed down since the days of the Bible.  The bishop is supposed to guard that Faith.

3. Evangelist. The bishop leads in proclaiming the Gospel and leading others in to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

4. Apostolic Leadership. Like the apostles of the New Testament, the bishop is called to expand the Kingdom of God to places where the Gospel is not present on a local basis, but also through missions to other parts of the world.

Too many bishops — Anglicans, in particular — forget these first four or politicise them to an extent that far removes them from Scripture.

May God continue to grant Archbishop Beach all grace that he may make ACNA — and the Diocese of the South — a beacon of Christianity to many people around the world.

 

holy_trinity by st andrei rublevThe post-Easter Church calendar concludes with Ascension Thursday, Exaudi Sunday, Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday.

To find out more about Trinity Sunday, these posts might be of interest:

On Trinity Sunday

A great way to explain the Holy Trinity

Anglican reflections on the Trinity

A practical — and Anglican — reflection for Trinity Sunday

It appears that, thanks to disaffected Anglicans turning toward the Catholic Church, their greatest hymns are now being incorporated into the liturgy of the Mass.

One of these is For All the Saints, by William Walsham How, an Anglican bishop. He wrote his reflections in 1864 and Ralph Vaughan Williams composed the stirring music to accompany them in 1906.

Monsignor Charles Pope of the Diocese of Washington wrote a beautiful post on the hymn, analysing the theology and Scripture behind each verse. I commend it to all my readers, even those who have been singing this magnificent hymn all their lives.

This is what he says about the first verse (emphases in the original):

First we cast our eyes heavenward to the Church Triumphant:

For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,

Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.

Alleluia!

Here then in the first verses is stated the purpose of the hymn. Namely, that we sing to and praise God for all those saints who have finished their course here and entered into the rest of the Lord. Like the the Lord they can say, “It is finished.” Like St. Paul they can say, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day (2 Tim 4:7-8). These saints declared to world the holy and blessed name of Jesus by their words and deeds. They confessed and did not deny him. To them and us Jesus made a promise: Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven (Matt 10:32). And we too are summoned to take up the cry: “Blessed be the Name of the Lord!”

Readers who have not heard the hymn before can do so via YouTube and the St Edmundsbury Cathedral Choir:

I noticed in the Telegraph jobs section that their job of the week (May 12, 2014) is for the Rector of St Bride’s in the City of London.

The current incumbent, the Venerable David Meara formally retired as rector on Easter Day 2014 but will stay on in a pastoral capacity until the end of July, at which time he and his wife Rosemary will return to Oxford.

Most Englishmen know that St Bride‘s is the church of those who work in some capacity with the written word — most recently in its history, journalists and photographers, even if newspapers moved out of the Fleet Street vicinity further east to Canary Wharf over 20 years ago. Their memorial services page includes the names of several journalists.

Historically, prior to the Reformation, communities of monks, such as the Blackfriars, lived near St Paul’s Cathedral, which looked much different before the Fire of London in 1666. As was true throughout Europe, these monks were responsible for creating manuscripts, some of which are in museums around the world, especially the British Museum.

When the printing press was invented during the Renaissance — also the time of the Reformation — William Caxton established his printing business in this same part of London because the cathedral and clergy would require books. By the 17th century, authors and poets lived in the area. They included John Milton, John Dryden and Samuel Richardson, among others. Richardson, incidentally, was a publisher prior to writing the first modern English novel, Pamela.

Today, St Bride’s is not only the church for those involved in media generally but is also affiliated with several of the ancient City and Livery Companies which grew out of the mediaeval guilds, specialising in nearly anything and everything to do with craftsmanship, from glovers to shipwrights.

Therefore, the future rector of St Bride’s needs to be able to communicate effectively not only with the great and good from the City, London’s oldest borough north of the River Thames, but also with a broad congregation of Londoners who worship there.

The new rector also needs to respect the church’s history, structure and worship traditions.

He must also be a strong, godly leader.

Of course, his primary responsibility is to preach the Gospel to all who enter St Bride’s and to pursue outreach work in Christ’s name.

To give you an idea of how Mr Meara carried out these responsibilities, an article on their website says:

He has greatly enjoyed his ministry at St Bride’s, during which the church has maintained and grown its links with the newspaper and wider media industry, completed a successful £3.5 million re-endowment appeal, expanded its involvement with the City and Livery Companies, grown its volunteer base, and maintained and enhanced the Sunday worshipping congregations served by their splendid professional choir. The fabric has been conserved and improved, and the first phase of an ambitious £2.5 million restoration project successfully completed.

As Archdeacon of London, David has overseen the development of thematic and pioneering ministries in a number of City churches, modernising their governance structures and raising the amount raised by City churches towards the Common Fund to nearly 100%.

A long-standing worshipper at St Bride’s, journalist and PR man Ernest Bevin, wrote an open letter of thanks to Mr Meara, who is also Archdeacon of London. It says, in part (emphasis in the original):

You will leave our famous Wren church, surely a gift from God, in even better shape than when you inherited it. Since your arrival, you must hold the world record for presiding at memorial services for the great and the good of the media world and beyond, not to mention the almost weekly baptisms, numerous weddings, other special services and the daily Eucharist. And then there were your many connections with the Livery companies in the City of London.  During all of this time, you demonstrated, without wanting to, what a gifted priest you are, with not a glimmer of faux grandiloquence either in meeting parishioners, or delivering your fascinating and often inspiring sermons.  I always felt, and many others agree, that your mission in life is admirably suited to your calling.

I was terribly impressed when you led the team to organise the Queen’s visit to St Bride’s in 2007 – which was almost 50 years to the day after she was in the church for its rededication. During the run up to that historical and wonderful event, it was almost as if you swapped your dog collar for a white shirt and a Guild tie, becoming Mr Unflappable without the slightest hint of panic in your voice or body language, riding us over problems as if they didn’t exist!

It came as no surprise when the Bishop of London appointed you to be his right hand man, which promoted you from Canon to Archdeacon. Now historically in the Church of England, Archdeacons have a bit of a reputation for being pompous, aloof or sometimes, bon viveurs.  But not you, David, you carried on preaching the Gospel as if nothing had happened, although we all knew that so much was happening in your ecclesiastical workload, but your beloved St Bride’s went from strength to strength.

The Bishop of London, the Right Revd Richard Chartres, sums up the type of person who would serve St Bride’s well:

What is required in my judgement is someone who is first and foremost a priest and pastor of character and commitment. The opportunities for ministering to those who operate in the stressful sphere of journalism are very great and the post requires someone of considerable talent.

I pray that St Bride’s finds a suitable new rector soon.  The post will require an extraordinary person!

You can read more about the job here.

 

This year, my Anglican parish’s Palm Sunday reading included Psalm 118 but omitted the middle verses.

Some clergy think that ‘too much Bible’ bores the congregation. I disagree. This psalm is a case in point.

This is what we heard for the first reading:

1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures forever!

 2 Let Israel say,
   “His steadfast love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say,
   “His steadfast love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the LORD say,
   “His steadfast love endures forever.”

 5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
   the LORD answered me and set me free.
6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.
   What can man do to me?

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
   that I may enter through them
   and give thanks to the LORD.
20This is the gate of the LORD;
    the righteous shall enter through it.
21I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone.
23This is the LORD’s doing;
   it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day that the LORD has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.

 25Save us, we pray, O LORD!
   O LORD, we pray, give us success!

 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
   We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27The LORD is God,
   and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
   up to the horns of the altar!

 28You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
   you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures forever!

What follows is what was omitted. One wonders how many people opened their pew Bibles to read these verses (emphases mine below):

7 The LORD is on my side as my helper;
   I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

 8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
    than to trust in man.
9It is better to take refuge in the LORD
    than to trust in princes.

 10 All nations surrounded me;
   in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
   in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
   they went out like a fire among thorns;
   in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
   but the LORD helped me.

 14The LORD is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
15Glad songs of salvation
   are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
 16the right hand of the LORD exalts,
   the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”

 17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
   and recount the deeds of the LORD.
18The LORD has disciplined me severely,
   but he has not given me over to death.

Bible scholars generally agree that David wrote this psalm after fully gaining the kingdom which God intended for him.

Matthew Henry notes that it could have been sung when the Ark of the Covenant was installed in David’s royal city and was sung thereafter during the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Henry explains, citing the King James Version of his time:

He preserves an account of God’s gracious dealings with him in particular, which he communicates to others, that they might thence fetch both songs of praise and supports of faith, and both ways God would have the glory. David had, in his time, waded through a great deal of difficulty, which gave him great experience of God’s goodness

There are many who, when they are lifted up, care not for hearing or speaking of their former depressions but David takes all occasions to remember his own low estateAll the nations adjacent to Israel set themselves to give disturbance to David, when he had newly come to the throne, Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Ammonites, &c. We read of his enemies round about they were confederate against him, and thought to cut off all succours from him. This endeavour of his enemies to surround him is repeated (Psalm 118:11): They compassed me about, yea, they compassed me about, which intimates that they were virulent and violent, and, for a time, prevalent, in their attempts against him, and when put into disorder they rallied again and pushed on their design … Two ways David was brought into trouble:– (1.) By the injuries that men did him (Psalm 118:13): Thou (O enemy!) hast thrust sore at me, with many a desperate push, that I might fall into sin and into ruin. Thrusting thou hast thrust at me (so the word is), so that I was ready to fall. Satan is the great enemy that thrusts sorely at us by his temptations, to cast us down from our excellency, that we may fall from our God and from our comfort in him and, if God had not upheld us by his grace, his thrusts would have been fatal to us. (2.) By the afflictions which God laid upon him (Psalm 118:18): The Lord has chastened me sore. Men thrust at him for his destruction God chastened him for his instruction. They thrust at him with the malice of enemies God chastened him with the love and tenderness of a Father. Perhaps he refers to the same trouble which God, the author of it, designed for his profit, that by it he might partake of his holiness (Hebrews 12:10) howbeit, men, who were the instruments of it, meant not so, neither did their heart think so, but it was in their heart to cut off and destroy, Isaiah 10:7. What men intend for the greatest mischief God intends for the greatest good, and it is easy to say whose counsel shall stand. God will sanctify the trouble to his people, as it is his chastening, and secure the good he designs and he will guard them against the trouble, as it is the enemies’ thrusting, and secure them from the evil they design, and then we need not fear.

It takes profound faith to believe that God will preserve us through our greatest, most violent trials and tribulations. God used David’s enemies’ attacks to strengthen his love for Him. As Henry says at the beginning of his commentary for Psalm 118:

It appears here, as often as elsewhere, that David had his heart full of the goodness of God. He loved to think of it, loved to speak of it, and was very solicitous that God might have the praise of it and others the comfort of it. The more our hearts are impressed with a sense of God’s goodness the more they will be enlarged in all manner of obedience.

This is why it is so important for us to pray for more faith, especially when things are going well so that we can draw on it during times when it seems as if everything and everyone are working against us. Bible study will also help build our understanding of God’s purpose for us.

However, there is an even greater prophecy here which is why this psalm is chosen as a reading from Palm Sunday through the Easter season. It speaks of Jesus and Jesus himself cites it in referring to Himself.

Matthew 21 begins with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday. This is the final week of His public ministry. Longtime subscribers of this blog will have followed my Forbidden Bible Verses series which recount the constant verbal assaults on Jesus not only by the Jewish Sanhedrin but also by ordinary people.

Palm Sunday was a brief moment of happiness in our Lord’s ministry on earth. The next few days, which we commemorate during Holy Week, turned so dark and treacherous that He suffered death on the Cross for our sins on Good Friday.

As Henry says of Psalm 118:

In singing this psalm we must glorify God for his goodness, his goodness to us, and especially his goodness to us in Jesus Christ.

Matthew 21 tells us that after riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, He went to the temple and toppled the tables of the money-changers. He then returned to Bethany, where He had been previously with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, whom He resurrected the day before.

Jesus returned to Jerusalem the following day. On His way there, He became hungry and cursed the barren fig tree when he found it had leaves but no fruit. That episode is analagous to those who do not bear fruits of faith; they will die eternally, never seeing God.

At the end of Matthew 21, Jesus had yet another confrontation with the Jewish leaders. He gave them two parables: those of the two sons and the talents. The chapter closes with His citation of Psalm 118:22-23:

22 The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone.
23This is the LORD’s doing;
   it is marvelous in our eyes.

Matthew tells us that Jesus went on to warn of condemnation for unbelief:

43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

The chapter ends with this:

45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

Henry tells us that the last ten verses of Psalm 118 relate specifically to Jesus Christ. Of the gate in verses 19 and 20, he says:

Some by this gate understand Christ, by whom we are taken into fellowship with God and our praises are accepted he is the way there is no coming to the Father but by him (John 14:6), he is the door of the sheep (John 10:9) he is the gate of the temple, by whom, and by whom only, the righteous, and they only, shall enter, and come into God’s righteousness, as the expression is, Psalm 69:27. The psalmist triumphs in the discovery that the gate of righteousness, which had been so long shut, and so long knocked at, was now at length opened. 3. He promises to give thanks to God for this favour (Psalm 118:21): I will praise thee. Those that saw Christ’s day at so great a distance saw cause to praise God for the prospect for in him they saw that God had heard them, had heard the prayers of the Old-Testament saints for the coming of the Messiah, and would be their salvation.

And Peter says the same when the Jewish leaders confronted him and John after they healed a lame man at the temple in Acts 3. They later arrested and held both apostles overnight in custody for speaking of the resurrected Christ to the public. The next day the hierarchy questioned the apostles. This was Peter’s reply (Acts 4:8-12):

8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” 

Psalm 118 tells us that, just as God saved David from death, so He also saved His only begotten Son.

We celebrate His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. He lives forevermore.

May we share the psalmist’s joy on Easter:

24This is the day that the LORD has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis - closeup detail of a HibiscusSunday, March 30, 2014, is Mothering Sunday in the UK.

My prayers and best wishes go to all British mothers on this day. I hope that losing one hour’s sleep as the clocks change to British Summer Time will not have too much of an adverse impact on this happy occasion! Enjoy the day and may it be filled with pleasant surprises!

Laetare Sunday has been Mothering Sunday for centuries, beginning with the Church in Britain.

In Lent, this is the Sunday when the celebrant — Catholic, along with some Anglicans and Lutherans — wears a rose coloured vestment. It is the one Sunday in Lent which allows a small celebration as the faithful anticipate the commemoration of Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Day.

The Catholic Church traditionally has given Laetare Roses to those who have shown exceptional faith and charity.

You can read more about all these traditions in the following posts:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

Stained glass shadows westernskycommunicationscomWhen I was growing up only nondenominational — what are known today as ‘evangelical’ — churches had mission slogans.

Everyone I knew who was a member of an established denomination thought that was a strange thing to do.

Sometimes the church names hinted at a slogan. We lived in a city which had a house of worship called The People’s Church.

The other day I saw an Anglican church mission slogan which read:

Living God’s love.

Really?

Is it humanly possible to live God’s love? As we are all sinners, that seems doubtful.

What if it turns out the aforementioned congregation only lives God’s love — what a prideful thought — if you, the visitor, agree to charismatic gifts or the Alpha Course? If you disagree, you don’t receive that ‘living’ of ‘God’s love’.

Personally, I would much rather attend a church without slogans. None of us can show ‘God’s love’ to everyone, although some of us might be able to show it to a few. Just let me know the times of the services and I’ll decide based on the preaching and liturgy. The coffee get-together and bric-a-brac sale can wait.

That said, the only slogan which ever persuaded me was the old (not sure these signs are up anymore in the United States):

The Episcopal Church welcomes you.

A simple welcome was all I needed. No promises and no churchy frou frou (for lack of a better term). That was over 30 years ago — I was in my early 20s at the time.

That slogan was a major factor in my going to an Episcopal Church and being received into one of their congregations two years later. I should say that I had been to an Episcopal wedding in the early 1970s which used liturgy from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The memory of the solemnity of that service has stayed with me ever since. It’s a shame that so many Episcopal clergy have abandoned the traditional language.

It seems — to me, anyway — that slushy slogans open up a congregation for a fall: ‘Sure, they said they were “living God’s love” but they were really aloof’.

So, I open it up for discussion.

Would you shy away from a church which had a slushy mission slogan that promises too much?

Or would you say, ‘That actually sounds good and appeals to me’?

Feel free to comment below briefly elaborating why such slogans would attract potential new members. Thank you in advance for your time.

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