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Yesterday’s post explained the reasons and history behind spiritual discipline during Lent.
Below are some suggestions for Lent for those who would like to do something a bit different.
When I was younger, I used to give up desserts in addition to observing Friday (and Ash Wednesday) fasts. A few years ago, I tried eating only one meal a day. As I was no longer working in town, there was no reason why it couldn’t be done. Since then, I’ve kept this up, rarely eating after dinner.
The ketogenic diet — high fat, moderate protein, very low carbohydrate — has helped greatly in this regard.
Dietary advice: the old ways are the best (my own story on the ketogenic diet)
A high fat and low carbohydrate way of eating is also very good in treating a variety of physical and mental medical conditions. (Some readers might need to discuss it with their doctor first.) Feeling better helps us to become better ambassadors for Christ:
Fat and a balanced mind (low-fat diets can imbalance serotonin and nerves)
High carbohydrate intake and depression (also epilepsy related [Dr Richard A Kunin’s paper])
High-carb, low-fat diets might cause Western diseases (cancer related)
Now that I am older and understand it better, sanctification has become more important. Part of this lifelong undertaking includes Bible study.
A few years ago, I was undertaking Bible reading every day during Lent. One year later, I had read it all. Would that I had done so before. These posts of mine explore methods of reading the entirety of Scripture which lend themselves to our busy modern lives:
Prayer is also vital to sanctification — our growth as Christians. However, a question mark remains over certain New Age practices which have migrated into the Church:
These suggestions are not to be construed as persuasion to adopt a Lenten discipline. As the Lutheran Pastor Abrahamson said, it is not obligatory nor is it salvific. However, many like to use these 40 days to further their personal sanctification but are not quite sure how to go about it.
I pray that those of us undertaking something special are able to keep a good Lent.
For Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent which ends the evening of Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.
The concept of Lent offends a number of Protestants who say that every day should be considered one of repentance. Others add that this is an extra-biblical or pagan practice, something many believers have gleaned from the Free Church of Scotland minister Alexander Hislop‘s book The Two Babylons.
In ‘Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Ash Wednesday and Lent’ Abrahamson tells us that St Athanasius — and other doctors of the Church before him — took Lenten disciplines seriously in the earliest days of Christianity.
Pastor Abrahamson cites St Athanasius’s text from the fourth century (emphases mine below):
6. The beginning of the fast of forty days is on the fifth of Phamenoth (Mar. 1); and when, as I have said, we have first been purified and prepared by those days, we begin the holy week of the great Easter on the tenth of Pharmuthi (Apr. 5), in which, my beloved brethren, we should use more prolonged prayers, and fastings, and watchings, that we may be enabled to anoint our lintels with precious blood, and to escape the destroyer4021. Let us rest then, on the fifteenth of the month Pharmuthi (Apr. 10), for on the evening of that Saturday we hear the angels’ message, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is risen4022.’ Immediately afterwards that great Sunday receives us, I mean on the sixteenth of the same month Pharmuthi (April 11), on which our Lord having risen, gave us peace towards our neighbours. When then we have kept the feast according to His will, let us add from that first day in the holy week, the seven weeks of Pentecost, and as we then receive the grace of the Spirit, let us at all times give thanks to the Lord; through Whom to the Father be glory and dominion, in the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.
Below are excerpts from Abrahamson’s post, which sheds more light on the subject of Lenten practice.
The ancient Church recognized that it was free from legalistic obligations, both from the Old Testament Law, and from new invented laws of men. St. Paul wrote about this in Colossians 2. They also knew from Scripture that they were not to use this liberty as an excuse for sin. (Romans 6) They knew that they were not to let their consciences be bound by new human regulations as if their salvation depended upon them. (Galatians 1-2) Whatever was beneficial for the teaching of God’s word and for the practice of the Christian life-consisting of repentance and forgiveness in the Means of Grace-was encouraged.
No human can require a Christian to use the fast of Lent as a saving work. A congregation can recommend the practice as a serious self-examination of one’s own sin and sinful appetites; of one’s own weaknesses. No human can require Christians to use ash on Ash Wednesday or any other day as a way of proving their faith.
And neither can any human forbid the use of the Lenten fast or the use of ashes either. Both are legalism, a replacing of the Gospel for a new law. The whole point of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Fast is to look on ourselves as worthless and utterly needy: to look only upon Christ, to celebrate His feast in the Lord’s Supper, preach His passion and death upon the cross, and proclaim the Resurrection of Christ as the final seal upon our salvation.
Secondly, the near-universal consideration of Lent as a time of penitence, fasting and prayer:
We learn from this [Athanasius’s text] that even at the time the Nicene Creed was written, at the time Constantine the Great ruled, the Western and Eastern Churches practiced a voluntary fast for 40 days before Easter.
That this was practiced in Rome and elsewhere is seen in St. Athanasius’ letter from the year 340 A.D. when he returns from a meeting of pastors/bishops from all around the world, and he encourages his own congregations to continue in the same practice of the 40 day Lenten fast as does “the rest of the whole world.”
Thirdly, Abrahmson gives us several scriptural references concerning the use of ashes: 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, Job 2:8, Isaiah 58:5, Jeremiah 6:26, Daniel 9:3, Jonah 3:6 and Luke 10:13. Therefore:
The practice of believers using ashes to represent sorrow and repentance is well testified in the Bible.
Fourthly, an explanation of how the days of Lent are calculated:
In order to count the 40 days of Lent the Sundays of that season are not counted as part of the fast. Rather the Sundays are each a minor feast day. If you add the six feast Sundays to the 40 fast days you get 46 days. That means that the first day of the Fast of Lent is a Wednesday, just as Athanasius explained.
From an Episcopalian perspective, Anne Kennedy — wife of the Revd Matt Kennedy — gave a good précis of the Episcopal / Anglican reasons for using Lent as a special time to progress in sanctification. I posted on her reflections last year. Mrs Kennedy took for her text Psalm 32, which includes these verses:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
She writes, in part:
This strikes me as a perfect entrance into a Lenten season of repentance and self examination. The gift of God’s forgiveness to the one who turns in sorrow for sin is the beginning point. It is the moment of greatest blessing. Many things come after it—love, grace, maturity, knowledge, enlightening of the heart and mind—but none of them can be had in their fullness without repentance, without turning around and walking towards God rather than away from him. And yet this beginning step is usually always the hardest, whether it is a first time repentance, or one of the many many times of contrition the Christian faces …
Certainly, we can accomplish nothing without divine grace. Therefore, we pray for more of it, particularly during this time.
It is also to be hoped that the discipline we undertake during these 40 days becomes an inherent part of us so that we may then progress to another stage of sanctification afterward.
Reading the confusing history of St Valentine’s Day must make people wonder how this could ever have become such an enduring tradition around the world.
It is also one of the few saints’ feast days which secularists commemorate.
Which St Valentine?
First, there has been no consensus since Roman times as to who exactly St Valentine was. There were several saints named Valentine who could have fit the bill. In 1969, the Catholic Church withdrew February 14 as a feast day for this very reason. That said, the Anglican Communion and Lutheran Church have retained it in their respective calendars.
The earliest Sts Valentine were all martyrs from the Roman Empire. Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni (originally Interamna) are both commemorated on February 14. Valentine of Rome, a priest, was martyred in 496 AD. Valentine of Terni was a bishop martyred during the rule of the Emperor Aurelian in 197 AD.
Geoffrey Chaucer added another St Valentine to the mix (see below), Valentine of Genoa, also a bishop. He is thought to have died in 307 AD.
Valentine of Rome
Valentine of Rome appears to be the principal saint of the legend behind February 14. The legends about his life began shortly after his death during the rule of Emperor Claudius II and include the following:
– He came to the attention of Claudius II when he was arrested for being a Christian; the emperor interrogated him personally and was impressed by Valentine’s answers.
– Valentine is said to have converted his jailer Asterius and his whole household — 44 people in all — to Christianity. This occurred after Valentine restored Asterius’s daughter Julia’s eyesight.
– Centuries later, another anecdote was added to this story: the night before Valentine’s execution, he sent a message to Julia and signed it ‘From your Valentine’.
– Another legend purports that Valentine performed clandestine marriages for Claudius II’s soldiers. The emperor supposedly forbade his men from marrying, as this would weaken them in battle. However, it seems as if this is untrue; after the Roman victory over the Goths, Claudius II encouraged the soldiers to take ‘two or three women’ apiece. Perhaps the emperor just changed his mind.
– Valentine was supposed to have given parchment hearts to the Roman soldiers whom he had married. He also gave these to other persecuted Christians, it is said, ‘to remind them of their vows and of God’s love’.
– When Claudius II realised he could not convert Valentine to paganism, he had him executed.
– After Valentine’s burial, Julia supposedly planted an almond tree on his grave. Since then, the almond tree has symbolised enduring love and friendship.
Valentine of Terni
It seems that this Valentine — the bishop — wore an amethyst ring appropriate to his office. Allegedly, it had an image of Cupid engraved on it. It seems unlikely that a Christian bishop would have a pagan deity’s image on his ring. Hmm.
His story and that of the priest Valentine seem to converge on marrying Roman soldiers. According to legend, when interested soldiers saw Valentine of Terni’s ring, they asked if he would marry them and their sweethearts.
Amethyst, therefore, became the birthstone for the month of February as the gem is associated with love.
More confusion reigns over the association of Valentine’s Day with the Roman pagan feast Lupercalia, which took place between February 13 and 15. However, it would seem that what we recognise as Valentine’s Day began centuries later in the Middle Ages. There are various conflicting stories about the specific origin even at that point in history.
English writers and kings
In 1382, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem celebrating the first anniversary of the engagement of England’s Richard II to Anne of Bohemia, which included these lines:
For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.
As February is generally too early for birds to mate, it is thought that Chaucer could have been referring to St Valentine of Genoa, whose feast day is May 3.
Across the Channel in France, Charles VI is said to have instituted February 14 as a celebration of love, decreed in 1400 and part of the Charter of the Court of Love. However, historical documentation is non-existent and this alleged feast might not have even taken place.
Not long afterward, following the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, another Charles — the Duke of Orleans — was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Evidence exists supporting the note to his wife in France as being the first ever Valentine. It included these words:
My very sweet [gentle] Valentine.
In 1477, an Englishwoman Margery Brewes compiled a collection of letters to her husband, John Paston. One entry in the Paston Letters has this line:
my right well-beloved Valentine.
Moving on to the next two centuries, Shakespeare wrote the following in Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5, in 1601:
To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
John Donne wrote this about the marriage of Elizabeth, James I’s daughter, to Frederick V, Elector Palatine:
Hayle Bishop Valentine whose day this is
All the Ayre is thy Diocese
And all the chirping Queristers
And other birds ar thy parishioners
Thou marryest every yeare …
Roses are red
The famous Valentine words ‘roses are red’ began with Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene from 1590:
She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.
By 1784, this had evolved into a more familiar verse which comes from the book of English nursery rhymes, Gammer Gurton’s Garland:
The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
Next year’s entry will look at how Valentine’s Day has grown in popularity since the 19th century.
For now, my best wishes for a happy Valentine’s Day!
It also remembers Mary’s return to worship 40 days after childbirth. This ancient Jewish tradition became a Christian ritual, the Churching of Women, now largely obsolete.
My post from 2013 explains this day as St Luke’s Gospel describes it and the ancient customs in Europe surrounding it. Catholic priests also bless candles at this time.
The French will be celebrating with crêpes, as it was an opportunity centuries ago to use up old flour rather than waste it.
New Year’s Day is the feast of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus Christ in the Anglican Communion.
Lutheran denominations still observe the Feast of Circumcision, although some churches now refer to it as The Name of Jesus.
In the Catholic Church the feast day’s name changed during Vatican II, becoming the Octave of the Nativity. In 1969, it became known as the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.
In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the readings for January 1 are used until Epiphany, January 6. Click on the link to read them in full in the second half of the post. The Collect is as follows, emphasis mine:
Almighty God, who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man; Grant us the true Circumcision of the Spirit; that, our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I wish all my readers a blessed, happy, healthy and prosperous 2015.
Happy New Year!
Yesterday’s post deplored the dire situation in The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States.
Today’s post examines how the greater Anglican Communion and TEC lost their way once they discarded the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.
Gillis Harp, Professor of History of Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania — which has a faithful Anglican congregation — describes himself as an amateur student of the Thirty-Nine Articles. That said, he has written a learned 17-page history, describing their ascent and decline throughout the history of Anglicanism. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.
N.B.: Harp’s references to ‘evangelical’ refers to what used to be known as low church Anglicanism. Evangelicalism in this context is the opposite of Anglo-Catholic.
During the Reformation
In formulating the Articles, English Reformers made it clear they repudiated Catholicism and Anabaptism, whilst affirming Lutheranism and Calvinism in light of Augustinianism (p. 3 of the PDF):
On the main points of contention with Roman Catholicism they are indeed crystal clear. Scripture is clearly identified as the supreme rule of faith and other essential matters follow: the fact of human depravity; the Biblical understanding of justification (what Luther aptly labeled the doctrine on which the church stands or falls); the doctrine of assurance; the meaning and purpose of the sacraments. On the flip side of the coin, they are also admirably clear in their negative teaching—i.e., their rejection of medieval tenets: purgatory, transubstantiation, denying the cup to the laity, the sacrifice of the mass and several others. What one often forgets is that they are also very clear about what Anabaptist distinctives they repudiate: Pelagianism, deprecating the sacraments, rejecting infant baptism, inattention to the order of the church visible and other matters. Indeed, often what strikes us as an odd turn of phrase has its roots in a point arising from Anabaptist teaching.2
The Articles are brief in their expression. They are not lengthy, perhaps to their detriment, as the respective Lutheran and Calvinist confessions of faith are. However, early English Reformers saw this as being a good thing (p. 3):
Bishop Pearson concluded in 1660 that they were not ʻpretended to be a complete body of divinityʼ but, rather ʻan enumeration of some truthsʼ, truths that were the minimal doctrinal requirement for those charged with the pastoral ministry in the Church of England.3 Subscription to such a modest set of doctrines by the clergy would secure theological (and political) peace in a necessarily comprehensive national church.
Anglican theologians of the 17th century, such as Bishop Pearson, affirmed the Articles in their sermons and written works.
Enlightenment: emphasis on rationality
During the Enlightenment, other Anglican theologians emphasised the broader significance of the Reformation, some of which, Harp says, has extended to the present day (p. 4). These men viewed:
the Reformation as a grand deliverance from the superstition of the Dark Ages and part of a larger march of progress toward common sense and rationality. Theological liberals extended this approach at the beginning of the twentieth century. One used to encounter such an interpretation of the Reformation in high school and college textbooks that portrayed Luther as a champion of individual liberty (quite a stretch for a figure as thoroughly medieval as Luther). Sometimes one got the impression from these accounts that the greatest achievement of the Reformation was that it made Higher Criticism possible!
However, there were others who held to a High Church tradition even before John Henry Newman. Yet (pp. 4, 5):
Some of these (especially those old High Churchmen who wrote before the Ritualist movement) were sharply anti-Roman Catholic and usually careful to exclude a sacerdotalist definition of the ordained ministry. The two best examples here are Bishop William Beveridge (1710) and Bishop Harold Browne (1850).4
Newman and the Oxford Movement
In the 1830s John Henry Newman was an Anglican priest who taught at Oxford. He was highly influential and well respected at the university.
In 1833, Newman began publishing a series of tracts, each one numbered, which affirmed a Roman Catholic interpretation of the Articles. This brought his Oxford Movement into greater prominence among Anglican clergy around the nation.
The publication of his Tract 90 represented his peak in the Church of England and soon resulted in his decline via criticism from clergy who were firmly in the Augustinian-Lutheran-Calvinist — Protestant — camp.
Newman contended that there was no Anglican doctrine as such; the Articles merely pointed to an ideal yet to be discovered. Furthermore, he ignored the Protestant nature of the reformed English Church. He also minimised the original intent of the Articles’ formulation as a Protestant statement of belief (p. 6).
Not surprisingly, this had the result of dividing Anglicans into resolute Protestants and those accepting of certain Roman Catholic doctrines.
In short, Anglicanism could be what the individual believer wanted it to be (p. 6). Unfortunately, this attitude has continued to pervade much of the Anglican Communion, i.e. the visible church.
Newman’s Tract 90 proved to be a step too far. A vast majority of clergy condemned it. In 1845, Newman became a Roman Catholic.
Still, his influence persists today. Even low church — evangelicals — began reinterpreting the Articles, relaxing the original emphases on the importance of Scripture, justification and imputed righteousness. They pronounced Luther and other early Reformers — Calvin and Zwingli — as ‘extreme’ and guilty of writing a ‘legal fiction’ (p. 7).
20th and 21st centuries
This loose interpretation of the Articles is still present among many low church evangelical clergy.
This is the reason why I have very few Anglican sites written by clergy on my blogroll. Just because they are ‘evangelical’ does not mean they are writing truths in line with Scripture or the Articles.
By the 1960s, theologians and other professors began to view the Articles as historical artifacts, just as they had done with old secular documents and books (p. 9):
Since the 1960s and seventies, several historians of political thought (sometimes called the ʻCambridge Schoolʼ) have advocated a ʻcontextualistʼ approach to historical texts. A student of John Locke, Professor John Dunn, has summarized the method of the Cambridge School as treating ʻthe historical character of the texts as fundamental, and understands these, in the last instance, as highly complex human actionsʼ. For these scholars, it is crucial that (to quote another theorist) ʻthe texts are treated in a self-consciously historical manner, through locating them in time and place and, moreover, examining them in their linguistic contexts…[the Cambridge School seeks] to introduce a reflexive historical sensitivity to the process of interpretation.ʼ16 Not only is the documentʼs original purpose and historical context crucial to discover and reconstruct but one must attempt to recreate the linguistic context within which particular words or phrases were used. For example, surveying what has been said about liberty from Plato to Mill is rather meaningless unless one is acutely aware of how the meaning of the word liberty has shifted and developed over time.
Giles Harp explains (p. 10):
The methodological concerns of intellectual historians should alert us to how naïve and biased Anglicans have been in interpreting our formularies. Both Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals have been guilty of ahistorical and partisan readings (although because Evangelicals have more often been in sympathy with the central concerns of the Reformers, they have often been fairer interpreters than their High Church opponents).
How laypeople view the Reformation and the Articles
The clergy’s reinterpretation of the foundation of the Anglican Communion has had a profound effect on how churchgoers view the Reformation and the Thirty-Nine Articles.
Harp rightly deplores the current mindset of our church members (pp. 2, 3). I have witnessed this myself since the 1980s:
The vast majority of American Episcopal layfolk (and, in my experience, many of its clergy) are woefully ignorant of the Reformation. If the defining documents of Anglicanism, the Reformation formularies (Articles, BCP, Ordinal and Homilies) are products of an era that most Anglicans know little or nothing about, we do have a problem. And the problem is not solely one of ignorance but of unease or downright hostility. Episcopalians are embarrassed about Henry VIII. Many take pride in that Anglicanism broke with Rome but ʻavoided Lutherʼs extremesʼ (whatever that is supposed to mean!). I have been struck with how other churches of the magisterial Reformation show a much greater knowledge of and appreciation for their Reformation roots. Lutherans and Presbyterians celebrate Reformation Sunday and sing ʻA mighty fortressʼ with gusto. Why shouldnʼt Anglicans do so also? Episcopalians seem vaguely embarrassed by it all. In the ECUSA calendar, the Oxford martyrs are lumped together in a single day—is it ever observed in Episcopal churches? (At least in Canada and England, Cranmer has his own day and Latimer and Ridley appropriately share one.) Much of this myopia regarding the Reformation stems from the Tractarian movement and its Anglo-Catholic successors but one must frankly recognize it as a serious problem undermining the recovery of authentic Anglicanism in North America.
Not only there but in the rest of the world as well!
It is no wonder that the laity view the Articles as being obsolete (p. 1):
Forgetting the Thirty-Nine Articles has, of course, been part of a larger assault on traditional doctrine. Relegating the Articles to the ʻHistorical Documentsʼ section of the 1979 American BCP was a small part of this shift but a revealing one nonetheless.
They were also excluded from the Church of England’s Alternative Service Book 1984 — much parodied in the London-based Private Eye magazine — and the current Common Worship which appeared nearly 15 years ago.
A vestryman of my parish church stated recently in writing that people are not interested in theology or Scripture, nor should they necessarily be, rather, let them focus on being good men and women. Hmm. Anyone can do that.
Conversations with my neighbours and clergy over the decade reveal the same outlook. Furthermore, they question any traditional or historical liturgy. They conclude that they are Anglicans, therefore, they can believe anything they wish.
As a result, they hold to a Universalist redemption of all, liberation theology, Anabaptist salvation through works, Holy Communion for the unbaptised and no mention of sin other than a brief confession during the Sunday service.
Giles Harp strongly advocates a return to the Thirty-Nine Articles via a thorough study of 17th, 18th and pre-Newman 19th century works written about them. He admits this will not be an easy task. I would ask, ‘Who, but a handful of laymen and clergy, will assume it?’ That said, they must do so for the health of our denomination.
He rightly concludes (p. 15):
Surely much of the dissension within Anglican churches since the mid-nineteenth century is the bitter fruit of not respecting the original intent of our framers. When the Anglican formularies become a kind of wax nose that can be shaped by partisans who were avowed enemies of the principles of the English Reformers, then is it any wonder that Anglicanism is in dire straights? As many of us are now involved in the recovery of authentic Anglicanism in North America, let us not shrink from the hard work of understanding the original intent of the Articles and the even harder job of really applying them to the teaching and practice of our congregations.
May every Anglican and Episcopal seminary and congregation come to know the biblical truths expounded upon in our Articles of Religion. May we also begin to believe and follow them.
The Collect addresses our regenerate nature in Christ Jesus, without Whom we would still be under divine law alone:
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
The first reading is taken from the fourth chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Galatians beginning at the first verse:
NOW I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
In his sermon on these verses, John MacArthur (not an Anglican, by the way) says that when He was among us, Jesus grew up much like any other child, being educated practically and religiously. He was brought up to obey, as a servant would have been. Then, God the Father appointed a perfect time for Him to be with us and conduct His earthly ministry whereby Jesus assumed His sonship as referred to in Genesis:
The bondage was long and hard. When God said way back in Genesis 3:15 that there was one coming who would bruise the serpent’s head, it was a long time before He came. A long time, but when the fullness of time came, when it was the right time, when it was the perfect time, when it was God’s time …
MacArthur lists the historical reasons in the ancient world as to why this was a perfect time but is careful to emphasise that God’s holy plan does not derive from manmade events:
… the Babylonian captivity had purged Israel from idolatry and at least they were focusing on the true God and looking for the Messiah, and so Israel, the people to whom the Messiah first must come, were not engulfed in idolatry but were looking at the true God even if through their own skewed vision and were looking for the Messiah. The canon of the Old Testament had been well-established; the prophecies were laid down; the synagogues had been established so there would be places to go to preach the Gospel to people who at least ostensibly were seeking to know the true God in Israel. Furthermore, and thinking beyond that, Alexander the Great had spread the Greek language over the whole known world, certainly the Biblical world, so that everybody spoke Greek, so that the Scriptures could be in the New Testament, written in a language that would be understood by everyone. And also the Romans with their powerful Pax Romana had brought peace out of diverse cultures and built roads everywhere so that easy access both from the standpoint of travel and from the standpoint of authority would be available for missionaries spreading this Gospel. Maybe from that perspective that’s significant, but more significant than that is that in God’s mind and from God’s viewpoint, the time was right for whatever reasons God has in His eternal understanding.
Note that Paul describes our Lord’s birth on earth as being of a woman and being under the law. MacArthur explains:
Mary had that child conceived by the Holy Spirit when she was a virgin and remained a virgin, the Scripture says, until the child was born … God sent forth from the presence of God man made out of the loins of a woman. In order to save us He had to be God, for only God can overpower sin and death and hell. In order to save us he had to be man because only man can substitute for man and die man’s death. He had to be God and man, God to give His sacrifice infinite value, to bear our sins in his own body. Then it says He was not only born of a woman but born under the law. That’s a marvelous statement. Like any other man, He was responsible to the law of God. He was born under it, born with a responsibility to obey it. Like every man, He had the responsibility to obey God’s law; like no man, He obeyed it perfectly. He obeyed it perfectly. He kept it perfectly. He knew no sin. He was without sin says Scripture.
Paul goes on to say that our Lord’s sonship enabled Him to bring us into the same sonship with God the Father. He freed us from the law’s bondage and offers us eternal redemption. MacArthur tells us:
This is talking about status. This is the status of a son. No longer in bondage to the law, no longer in bondage to the flesh, no longer gritting your teeth trying to perform, now all of a sudden what happens is instead of being under the bondage of works and law and trying to salve your conscience and please God with your human fleshly effort, you are a son. And by decree and declaration of the father-provision through Jesus Christ, you enter into the freedom of being a son and you receive your inheritance. Many as receive Him, it says, God gave the right to be called the sons of God, even to those who believe on His name. So there is the realization of son-ship.
The law could only crush us, kill us, make us guilty, show us our sin. We couldn’t keep it; we couldn’t perform; we couldn’t salve our conscience; we couldn’t earn our salvation. We were always slaves even though we were destined to be sons. Until Jesus came and purchased our salvation which then being applied to us lifts us out of the childhood of slavery into the maturity of son-ship.
Paul tells the Galatians that, because of our Redeemer, we, too, can consider God our loving Father. The name Abba is a familiar one; whilst designating ‘father’ it is a more intimate one, akin to ‘Dad’ or ‘Papa’. It is a name, MacArthur says, which:
pulls me back into intimacy with God and I experience that son-ship. My own heart cries, God, you’re my father. God, I feel intimate with you in person. That’s the word Abba. The spirit witnesses to us that we are the sons of God, Paul said in Romans 8.
We, then, as Paul’s letter states, are truly sons of God thanks to Jesus Christ.
The Gospel reading is taken from the first chapter of Matthew beginning at the 18th verse (emphases mine):
NOW the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
It summarises the Nativity story, including Joseph’s inner conflict about Mary’s situation, resolved once the angel appeared to him in a dream.
The verses I have emphasised are the fulfilment of Scripture, hence the reasons for the O Antiphons from the Old Testament, upon which many meditate in the week preceding Christmas Day.
In a December 2014 entry on his Grace To You site, ‘Born to Die’, MacArthur tells us:
The important issue of Christmas is not so much that Jesus came, but why He came. There was no salvation in His birth. Nor did the sinless way He lived His life have any redemptive force of its own. His example, as flawless as it was, could not rescue men from their sins. Even His teaching, the greatest truth ever revealed to man, could not save us from our sins. There was a price to be paid for our sins. Someone had to die. Only Jesus could do it.
He goes on to say:
Don’t think I’m trying to put a damper on your Christmas spirit. Far from it—for Jesus’ death, though devised and carried out by men with evil intentions, was in no sense a tragedy. In fact, it represents the greatest victory over evil anyone has ever accomplished.
It’s appropriate to commemorate the birth of Christ. But don’t make the mistake of leaving Him as a baby in a manger. Keep in mind that His birth was just the first step in God’s glorious plan of redemption. Remember that it’s the triumph of Christ’s sacrificial death that gives meaning to His humble birth. You can’t truly celebrate one without the other.
We often forget this when Easter comes. We tend to sideline Easter, the greatest of the Church’s feasts, when we should be truly thankful for our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead and power over sin so that He can save us and bring us into everlasting communion with our heavenly Father.
Perhaps we tend not to think of Easter as warmly as we do Christmas because there is no adorable Child to think of — and no presents for us to open.
Christmas is, rightly, a huge celebration, but, as MacArthur says, it was but the first step in God’s divine plan accomplished through His only Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Church worship and involvement have changed dramatically during my lifetime.
It used to be that you went with the primary intent of worship. That meant you were on your best behaviour, you had a solemn frame of mind, you were prayerful, you received Communion and partipated in the liturgy. You also paid attention to the readings and the sermon, even if the latter was sub-par. The ‘Peace’ was also not part of the deal. Maybe you had coffee afterward, but it was always acceptable to simply go home.
There was no compunction to serve on a committee. Most were few and far between, outside of a vestry, perhaps a prayer group for men, an altar society for women and an informal club for senior citizens. The one exception I can think of is a large Episcopal congregation I belonged to for several years. As it is in a big city centre, the congregation has a need for them. Furthermore, small groups did not exist during most of my churchgoing history.
Today, everything is different.
There’s meet-and-greet beforehand. The Peace — a Roman Catholic innovation — is slipping in to more Protestant liturgies, which are becoming more watered-down so as not to make anyone uncomfortable. The congregation is encouraged to focus more on man than on God.
Church members are strongly encouraged to join committees. Everyone has to ‘do’ something for their church. New or prospective joiners are quickly recruited for something or other.
Why do our church congregations mandate all of this? Why must church-oriented activity occupy the majority of our lives? And why do so many of us meet with a churchy evil eye when we decline to participate in these numerous committees and groups?
Surely it would be better if we focussed on attending church to worship God and do our best to lead good Christian lives the other six days of the week.
Those of us with such questions, particularly on worship, are not alone.
One of the co-founders and contributors to the Reformed site, Old Life, is Darryl G Hart, an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church discussed the change in perspective on worship. In ‘Preparation for Worship’, he examined a New Calvinist (Calvinist theology with Evangelical-style worship) exhortation to press the flesh on Sundays because you’ll be a better Christian.
D G Hart’s analysis reminded me of the good old days of church (emphases mine):
I used to think — silly me — that the point of going to church was not for me or for my fellow members but to obey the first commandment: know and acknowledge God to be the only true God and our God, and to worship and glorify him accordingly …
Still, one of the reasons for the worship wars and the silliness that God’s people have had to endure for the last 35 years (though in many instances they wanted it and got it good and hard) is that Christians seemed to forget that worship was chiefly an instance of entering God’s presence and honoring and praising him as creator and redeemer — you know, assembling with all the saints (living and dead) and angels at Mt. Zion. If you go with that understanding, you may actually come across as one of God’s frozen chosen since you may be thinking more about how to please God (and worried about offending him) than about whether the pastor and church members were friendly.
Yes, my fellow congregants and vicar would certainly call me a member of the ‘frozen chosen’. I attend the traditional service which, except on Christmas and Easter, has no hymns. I do not participate in the Peace. I am there to be with God and worship him in the frame of mind that Hart describes.
Anyone who is as bemused and frustrated with the change of focus for worship and emphasis on committee participation will enjoy the readers’ comments following Hart’s concise post, especially these:
MPS: I remember when my childhood Lutheran church started doing the greeting thing. I didn’t like it and it seemed to come out of nowhere. We can greet and chit chat AFTER the service when people are rushing downstairs to get donuts and coffee.
Erik Charter: No greeting anyone during the service, please.
After the service if I can have 1, maybe 2 decent conversations with someone each week I ‘m happy. Over the course of the year hopefully I get to have a conversation with everyone.
It’s not the Country Club.
Brian Johnson: Why’s he gotta pick on the quiet guy, yo? Interesting, no mention of the ‘natural’ disposition of the resident gossip, the chronic complainer, or the bin-Ladin esque conversation highjacker. I will take a book and a corner any day, twice on Sunday.
If we better understood what we were doing every Lord’s day (responding to His gracious call to worship, and having Him accept our pathetic attempts as if they were Christ’s) I imagine we would kill two birds with the same stone; worshiping in gratitude and unity without the need for the command to stand up and greet your pew-mates.
The Mad Hungarian: While it is true that as members of the body of Christ we should look to serve each other, there is a danger inherent in such a “service culture.”
Sunday, November 30, 2014, is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new Church year.
Those churches using a three-year Lectionary will move into Year B’s readings for the next 12 months.
Advent is a time of preparation in recalling our Lord’s coming to live among us. Some worshippers might say that the readings in the run-up to Christmas are often gloomy. However, they encourage us to reflect on our need for God and His Son.
This Sunday’s reading from Isaiah 64:1-9 includes one of my favourite verses:
64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
The reading concludes:
64:9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
Psalm 80 (verses 1-7, 17-19) includes this refrain, characteristic of the Advent season:
80:3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
1 Corinthians 1:3-9 is the Epistle for this day and contains the following:
1:9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Gospel reading is Mark 13:24-37:
13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
13:32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
Advent is meant to be a solemn time when we consider our spiritual state and relationship to our only Redeemer and Advocate.
Amidst our celebrations and preparations, may we set aside time to read and contemplate to better understand the importance of the season.
The six-episode series of Grantchester ended last week on Britain’s ITV.
Is it a church drama? Is it a detective series?
In truth, it combines both with occasional flashes of humour and great dollops of Christian charity.
Grantchester (pron. ‘Gran-chester’) is a charming village just outside of Cambridge. I’ve been there. It is idyllic.
The village is the backdrop for a series of eponymous mysteries by James Runcie, son of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Revd Robert Runcie.
The main character, the young vicar Sidney Chambers, is loosely based on Robert Runcie. Chambers not only has to cope with parish life in 1953. He also becomes involved in helping a Cambridge police Detective Inspector solve local murders.
In short, Grantchester is not unlike Father Brown, which, by the way, is set to return to the BBC early in 2015 for a third, expanded series of 15 episodes. Sidney Chambers, like his Catholic counterpart, is largely viewed by local police as being a meddling priest: ‘Get back to church’. Yet, he always figures out who the murderer was.
Chambers is a man of his time — 1953 — as is Detective Inspector Geordie Keating. Both served in the Second World War and knew its horrors first-hand. Chambers is tortured by nightmares from his service in the Scots Guards, causing him to seek temporal solace in cigarettes, whisky and jazz. He abhors sherry, the traditional vicar’s drink.
However, Chambers also attracts the company of women, causing Keating to say when the young vicar shares his accounts of unrequited love: ‘Sidney, you sly old dog. Who was it this time?’
More importantly, we see his interpersonal relationships within his small village parish, interspersed with friends from his youth.
It is amazing that a prime-time television show featuring a vicar could be such a ratings hit in an increasingly secular Britain. However, it had between 4 and 5.5 million viewers every Monday night for the six weeks of its run.
It seems as if the episode list from the show’s Wikipedia entry might be overstating the ratings as their figures are well over what I have read elsewhere. Perhaps a fan has written the page and misunderstood the statistics? In any event, it’s a great result, considering the protagonist’s calling and the plethora of free-to-view television channels we have.
A big thanks to the 5.08m viewers who tuned in to watch Episode 5 last night. Our highest audience since the premiere!
The enlarged Masterpiece footprint kicks off with Grantchester, ITV‘s six-part mystery that stars James Norton as a charismatic clergyman who turns investigative vicar when one of his parishioners dies under suspicious circumstances (see trailer below). The 1950s-set series has received strong notices from critics in the UK where it is currently airing. It will debut on Masterpiece on January 18, at 10 PM, following Downton Abbey. Grantchester is a Lovely Day and Masterpiece co-production for ITV.
The aforementioned one-minute trailer sets expectations well:
James Norton — heartthrob and style icon
Ladies in the UK are quite taken with James Norton, who plays Sidney Chambers. A recent spread from Marks & Spencer shows him modelling some of their new men’s collection.
Their article has been reproduced on other online news sites, e.g. The Huffington Post. Although Norton previously — and convincingly — played a psychopath on Happy Valley, he is perfectly cut out for his role in Grantchester:
“I had the acting bug from a very early age,” says British actor James Norton. “I remember when I had friends over, they would all be desperate to play football or cricket, but I would insist upon making a little piece of theatre that I could write, direct and star in. I think they got fed up in the end and went to play at my other friends’ houses! …
An article in the UK’s Radio Times revealed that Norton attended the renowned Roman Catholic school Ampleforth in Yorkshire. The actor explained that it was more for his parents to be able to visit him regularly (the family home was nearby) than for religious reasons. Nonetheless, Norton ended up reading theology at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, prior to attending drama school. In the aforementioned publicity article, he says:
My parents both come from the world of academia, but I don’t think I ever felt pushed to go down an academic or acting route. I loved my degree in theology … It was great, even though it doesn’t have any relevance to my current profession. It’s not even on my CV, but I would never turn the clocks back.
Norton told the Radio Times that he pursued theology because he had many questions about it. Unfortunately, his coursework left him with more questions than answers. As such, he professes no faith at all today.
Of his years at Cambridge, he told Marks & Spencer:
Cambridge is so magical. It was lovely to go back and film there; it’s kind of a home from home for me.
He also took his co-star Robson Green (who plays Geordie Keating) for a tour of the city and its sights, reliving memories of his days at university.
Possible second series?
Four signs point to a follow-up series.
First, the iconic Rebecca Eaton — formerly of PBS and now with Lovely Day/Masterpiece — is one of the executive producers. Even SpouseMouse, who is English, said, ‘She knows how to choose a script and a storyline. That’s promising.’
Secondly, the ratings were very good.
Thirdly, a boxed DVD set has just come out as has a soundtrack album.
Fourthly, the sixth episode gave us threads to pick up in a future series.
One hour for each episode of Grantchester packs in a lot. We see the parish, starring housekeeper Mrs Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) and Leonard Finch the amiable curate (Al Weaver). Sidney’s love interests appear. And, of course, there is always Cambridge Police Station.
Social and physical settings
Forum comments on James Runcie’s novels, The Grantchester Mysteries, loosely based on aspects of his father’s life (although not as a crime-fighter), tell us that the Sidney Chambers character is more intense on television than in the books. It is interesting that those who have read the books prefer the television character.
However, the Daily Mail said:
It takes a first-class writer to put together a convincing storyline for such unlikely circumstances. James Runcie does it admirably. Sidney, like all good clergy, possesses an understanding of human nature that transcends simplistic judgments. He is a good man in an imperfect world and we should welcome him to the ranks of classic detectives.
Runcie, born in 1959, describes what 1953, the year in which The Grantchester Mysteries open, was like: beginning with the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:
My father-in-law bought a Bush TV22 specifically for the Coronation and all the neighbours came round to watch in the company of twenty million others. It was on this day that the nation could properly breathe a collective sigh of relief, realise what it meant to be part of a country that was building a peace, and be proud of itself. In short, 1953 was when Britain found its post war identity.
It was the year in which confidence returned; in which people felt liberated enough to think positively about country they wanted to live in, the clothes they chose to wear and the food they were able to eat (rationing had eased off but only stopped completely in 1954, almost nine years after the end of the war). The nation was changing and I believe there are two drivers in this creation of our modern identity: the spread of mass communication through the experience of the Coronation on television, and the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick. The creation of modern Britain works on two levels; the molecular and the momentous …
As for his father, pictured as a young priest at the bottom of the page, James says:
My father, Robert Runcie, trained as a clergyman at Westcott House, Cambridge in 1949 and was ordained as a Priest on Christmas Eve 1950. There is quite a bit about him in the character of Sidney …
It should be noted that not all scenes were filmed in Grantchester or Cambridge. Chambers’s church is the one in Grantchester, however, the railway station is much too antiquated to be Cambridge’s and is actually that of Horstead Keynes in West Sussex. The rectory is actually located in Hertfordshire, the county bordering Cambridgeshire. However, some city and rural scenes were filmed in Cambridge. Creative England has more information.
I would encourage as many readers as possible to see Grantchester. My British readers can find it on ITV’s iPlayer and Americans can look forward to seeing it on PBS in the New Year.