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Yesterday’s post covered the early years of Benedict XVI’s papacy, from 2005 to the beginning of 2010.

Today’s post will cover a few more news items from 2009 before moving on to the remainder of this good man’s time in the Vatican.

He certainly had his cross to bear between 2005 and 2013. For whatever reason, the world’s media were dead set against him from the beginning. Many bishops and priests opposed his liberation, for lack of a better word, of the Tridentine — Latin — Mass so that it could be more widely celebrated. Pope Francis shut that down, but it is still possible to attend a Latin Mass in some churches, e.g. Cannes and Nice.

Furthermore, some Catholic traditionalists did not consider Benedict to be traditional enough. To an extent, I agree. Then again, it would have been impossible for him to do away with the Novus Ordo, what my mother and I called Modern Mass, and the other ill-judged reforms of Vatican II. For those reasons, I became a Protestant in the 1980s.

I read some years ago that, near the end of his papacy, Benedict was unable to go into parts of the Vatican without feeling as if he were under spiritual attack, not because he was a bad servant of God but because he was a good one and that Satan wanted his soul. Some months after I read that article, Benedict resigned. If what I read was true, who can blame him? He deserved temporal and spiritual peace. Now he rests with the Lord for eternity.

2009 Easter address

On April 12, 2009, Pope Benedict gave his Easter message, that year’s Urbi Et Orbi. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world,

From the depths of my heart, I wish all of you a blessed Easter.  To quote Saint Augustine, “Resurrectio Domini, spes nostra – the resurrection of the Lord is our hope” (Sermon 261:1).  With these words, the great Bishop explained to the faithful that Jesus rose again so that we, though destined to die, should not despair, worrying that with death life is completely finished; Christ is risen to give us hope (cf. ibid.). 

Indeed, one of the questions that most preoccupies men and women is this: what is there after death?  To this mystery today’s solemnity allows us to respond that death does not have the last word, because Life will be victorious at the end.  This certainty of ours is based not on simple human reasoning, but on a historical fact of faith: Jesus Christ, crucified and  buried, is risen with his glorified body.  Jesus is risen so that we too, believing in him, may have eternal life. This proclamation is at the heart of the Gospel message.  As Saint Paul vigorously declares:  “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”  He goes on to say: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:14,19).  Ever since the dawn of Easter a new Spring of hope has filled the world; from that day forward our resurrection has begun, because Easter does not simply signal a moment in history, but the beginning of a new condition: Jesus is risen not because his memory remains alive in the hearts of his disciples, but because he himself lives in us, and in him we can already savour the joy of eternal life.

The resurrection, then, is not a theory, but a historical reality revealed by the man Jesus Christ by means of his “Passover”, his “passage”, that has opened a “new way” between heaven and earth (cf. Heb 10:20).  It is neither a myth nor a dream, it is not a vision or a utopia, it is not a fairy tale, but it is a singular and unrepeatable event: Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, who at dusk on Friday was taken down from the Cross and buried, has victoriously left the tomb.  In fact, at dawn on the first day after the Sabbath, Peter and John found the tomb empty.  Mary Magdalene and the other women encountered the risen Jesus.  On the way to Emmaus the two disciples recognized him at the breaking of the bread.  The Risen One appeared to the Apostles that evening in the Upper Room and then to many other disciples in Galilee. 

The proclamation of the Lord’s Resurrection lightens up the dark regions of the world in which we live.  I am referring particularly to materialism and nihilism, to a vision of the world that is unable to move beyond what is scientifically verifiable, and retreats cheerlessly into a sense of emptiness which is thought to be the definitive destiny of human life.  It is a fact that if Christ had not risen, the “emptiness” would be set to prevailIf we take away Christ and his resurrection, there is no escape for man, and every one of his hopes remains an illusion Yet today is the day when the proclamation of the Lord’s resurrection vigorously bursts forth, and it is the answer to the recurring question of the sceptics, that we also find in the book of Ecclesiastes:  “Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’?” (Ec 1:10).  We answer, yes:  on Easter morning, everything was renewed.  “Mors et vita, duello conflixere mirando:  dux vitae mortuus, regnat vivus – Death and life have come face to face in a tremendous duel:  the Lord of life was dead, but now he lives triumphant.”  This is what is new!  A newness that changes the lives of those who accept it, as in the case of the saints.  This, for example, is what happened to Saint Paul …

Resurrectio Domini, spes nostra!  The resurrection of Christ is our hope!  This the Church proclaims today with joy.  She announces the hope that is now firm and invincible because God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  She communicates the hope that she carries in her heart and wishes to share with all people in every place, especially where Christians suffer persecution because of their faith and their commitment to justice and peace.  She invokes the hope that can call forth the courage to do good, even when it costs, especially when it costs Today the Church sings “the day that the Lord has made”, and she summons people to joy …  To him, our victorious King, to him who is crucified and risen, we sing out with joy our Alleluia!

Five new saints

On Sunday, April 26, 2009, Benedict canonised five new saints.

The Telegraph reported:

Speaking in a packed St Peter’s Square, the Pope praised each of the five as a model for the faithful, saying their lives and works were as relevant today as when they were alive.

The Pontiff singled out the Rev Arcangelo Tadini, who lived at the turn of the last century and founded an order of nuns to tend to factory workers – something of a scandal at the time, since factories were considered immoral and dangerous places. Tadini also created an association to provide emergency loans to workers experiencing financial difficulties.

“How prophetic was Don Tadini’s charismatic intuition, and how current his example is today, in this time of grave economic crisis!” Benedict marvelled in his homily.

The only non-Italian canonised Sunday was Nuno Alvares Pereira, who helped secure Portugal’s independence from the Spanish kingdom of Castile, leading Portuguese forces in the critical Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.

After leaving the military, he entered religious life as a Carmelite and changed his name to Nuno de Santa Maria. He dedicated himself to the poor, never taking the privileges that would have been afforded to him as a former commander.

He is remembered as a national hero today in Portugal, with street signs named after him in many towns, but also as a humble man of great spirituality

Also canonised on Sunday was Bernardo Tolomei, a nearly blind monk who founded the Benedictine Congregation of Santa Maria di Monte Oliveto in the 1340s. He died in 1348 along with 82 of his monks after leaving the safety of his monastery to tend to plague victims in Siena.

The Pope praised his dedication, saying he died “as an authentic martyr of charity.”

The others canonised were Gertrude Comensoli and Caterina Volpicelli, 19th century Italian nuns who founded religious orders.

He has presided over a handful of canonisation ceremonies in his four-year pontificate, and has left it to other Vatican officials to officiate at beatification ceremonies …

Beatification is the first step to possible sainthood. The Vatican must certify one miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession for beatification, and a second miracle that occurred after beatification for the candidate to be declared a saint.

Address to the academic community in Prague

On September 27, 2009, Benedict addressed the academic community in Prague, reminding everyone of the true purpose of education — truth and reason:

Mr President,

Distinguished Rectors and Professors,

Dear Students and Friends,

The great changes which swept Czech society twenty years ago were precipitated not least by movements of reform which originated in university and student circles. That quest for freedom has continued to guide the work of scholars whose diakonia of truth is indispensable to any nation’s well-being.

I address you as one who has been a professor, solicitous of the right to academic freedom and the responsibility for the authentic use of reason, and is now the Pope who, in his role as Shepherd, is recognized as a voice for the ethical reasoning of humanity. While some argue that the questions raised by religion, faith and ethics have no place within the purview of collective reason, that view is by no means axiomatic. The freedom that underlies the exercise of reason – be it in a university or in the Church – has a purpose: it is directed to the pursuit of truth, and as such gives expression to a tenet of Christianity which in fact gave rise to the university. Indeed, man’s thirst for knowledge prompts every generation to broaden the concept of reason and to drink at the wellsprings of faith. It was precisely the rich heritage of classical wisdom, assimilated and placed at the service of the Gospel, which the first Christian missionaries brought to these lands and established as the basis of a spiritual and cultural unity which endures to this day. The same spirit led my predecessor Pope Clement VI to establish the famed Charles University in 1347, which continues to make an important contribution to wider European academic, religious and cultural circles.

The proper autonomy of a university, or indeed any educational institution, finds meaning in its accountability to the authority of truth. Nevertheless, that autonomy can be thwarted in a variety of ways. The great formative tradition, open to the transcendent, which stands at the base of universities across Europe, was in this land, and others, systematically subverted by the reductive ideology of materialism, the repression of religion and the suppression of the human spirit. In 1989, however, the world witnessed in dramatic ways the overthrow of a failed totalitarian ideology and the triumph of the human spirit. The yearning for freedom and truth is inalienably part of our common humanity. It can never be eliminated; and, as history has shown, it is denied at humanity’s own peril. It is to this yearning that religious faith, the various arts, philosophy, theology and other scientific disciplines, each with its own method, seek to respond, both on the level of disciplined reflection and on the level of a sound praxis.

From the time of Plato, education has been not merely the accumulation of knowledge or skills, but paideia, human formation in the treasures of an intellectual tradition directed to a virtuous life. While the great universities springing up throughout Europe during the middle ages aimed with confidence at the ideal of a synthesis of all knowledge, it was always in the service of an authentic humanitas, the perfection of the individual within the unity of a well-ordered society. And likewise today: once young people’s understanding of the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, they relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of how they ought to be and what they ought to do.

The idea of an integrated education, based on the unity of knowledge grounded in truth, must be regained. It serves to counteract the tendency, so evident in contemporary society, towards a fragmentation of knowledge. With the massive growth in information and technology there comes the temptation to detach reason from the pursuit of truth. Sundered from the fundamental human orientation towards truth, however, reason begins to lose direction: it withers, either under the guise of modesty, resting content with the merely partial or provisional, or under the guise of certainty, insisting on capitulation to the demands of those who indiscriminately give equal value to practically everything. The relativism that ensues provides a dense camouflage behind which new threats to the autonomy of academic institutions can lurk. While the period of interference from political totalitarianism has passed, is it not the case that frequently, across the globe, the exercise of reason and academic research are – subtly and not so subtly – constrained to bow to the pressures of ideological interest groups and the lure of short-term utilitarian or pragmatic goals? What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded? What will happen if in its anxiety to preserve a radical secularism, it detaches itself from its life-giving roots? Our societies will not become more reasonable or tolerant or adaptable but rather more brittle and less inclusive, and they will increasingly struggle to recognize what is true, noble and good

An understanding of reason that is deaf to the divine and which relegates religions into the realm of subcultures, is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures that our world so urgently needs. In the end, “fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom” (Caritas in Veritate, 9). This confidence in the human ability to seek truth, to find truth and to live by the truth led to the foundation of the great European universities. Surely we must reaffirm this today in order to bring courage to the intellectual forces necessary for the development of a future of authentic human flourishing, a future truly worthy of man …

Benedict extends welcome to disaffected Anglicans

On October 21, 2009, without notifying the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, Benedict extended a sincere welcome to disaffected Anglicans to join the Catholic Church, even granting them permission to use Anglican liturgies.

The Daily Mail reported:

The Pope paved the way for tens of thousands of disaffected Anglican worshippers to join the Roman Catholic Church while maintaining parts of their Protestant heritage. 

Those who convert could even be able to keep traditions including the Church of England’s historic prayer book – a major concession …

But the Vatican offer, which would allow conservative Anglicans who do not accept women bishops or gay rights to cross to Rome under the leadership of their own bishops, deepened divisions within the Church of England last night.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said it showed that relations between Anglicans and Roman Catholics were closer than ever.

However, evangelical traditionalists accused him of a lack of leadership.

The offer of an ‘Apostolic Constitution’ applies to all 70million Anglicans across the globe.

Anglican bishops would be called ‘ordinaries’ in the Roman Catholic Church. Anglican priests can already be accepted as Roman Catholic priests, even if married, but no married Anglican is allowed to become a Catholic bishop.

In a letter to Church of England bishops and primates of the Anglican Communion, Dr Williams said he was ‘sorry’ there had been no opportunity to alert them earlier to Rome’s announcement.

Church of England authorities appear to have learned about the offer just before they offered their own concession to Anglo-Catholics earlier this month over plans for future women bishops …

The Pope’s offer follows secret talks last year with the two Church of England ‘flying bishops’ – whose job is to minister to Anglo-Catholics who do not recognise women priests. Yesterday they admitted the meeting for the first time.

Bishop of Ebbsfleet Andrew Burnham and Bishop of Richborough Keith Newton said in a statement: ‘We were becoming increasingly concerned that the various agendas of the Anglican Communion were driving Anglicans and Roman Catholics further apart. It was our task, we thought, to take the opportunity of quietly discussing these matters in Rome.’

Visit to the UK

Benedict visited the UK in 2010.

On March 17, the Mail posted his itinerary:

The Pontiff will use his visit to ‘give guidance on the great moral issues of the day’ and his itinerary includes a speech on civil society in Westminster Hall that is certain to reflect on controversies over religious freedom, different attitudes to homosexuality, and abortion …

The cost of the Pope’s travels and organising his events will be £15million, which will be shared between the Government and the Church. The taxpayer will have to pick up the cost of policing including protecting the Pontiff from hostile demonstrators. This cost is not yet known.

Benedict’s itinerary will include visiting the Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, conducting the beatification service for 19th century theologian Cardinal Newman in Coventry and praying with other church leaders at Westminster Abbey.

On April 26, the Mail reported that a young civil servant sent an offensive email about the Pope’s upcoming visit stating, among other things, that he should open an abortion clinic. As this was a state visit, it nearly caused a diplomatic incident:

An Oxford graduate who sent a ‘seriously offensive’ email suggesting the Pope should open an abortion clinic ahead of the pontiff’s visit to Britain will keep his job in the civil service, it emerged today.

Steven Mulvain, 23, who once listed ‘drinking a lot’ as a hobby, emailed the document, which also included the suggestion of launching a range of ‘Benedict’ condoms, to Downing Street and three Whitehall departments.

It is believed that Mr Mulvain … escaped punishment because he was given authorisation to send the memo by a more senior civil servant, who has since been ‘transferred to other duties’.

However, the shock e-mail threatened to plunge the Pope’s state visit into jeopardy with ‘dark forces’ within the Foreign Office casting a shadow over the trip, Vatican officials declared yesterday.

A well-placed aide in the Vatican said: ‘This could have very severe repercussions and is embarrassing for the British Government – one has to question whether the action taken is enough. It is disgusting.’

However, when the Pope arrived in September, all went well. Even the media covered his visit in a respectful way. The Queen acknowledged the Holy See’s help in resolving the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

In my post, I wrote:

The Mass at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday morning (September 18) was beautiful and dignified, with the Eucharistic Prayer and a few of the other prayers said or sung in Latin (1968 Novus Ordo), but the real highlight was when the Pope walked out of the cathedral to hundreds (probably thousands) of youngsters from every diocese in England. Wow — you would have thought they were glimpsing a rock star — screams of delight which brought real smiles to BXVI’s face. His talk to them was the most spontaneous that I have heard him give on this trip. Although he had his speech typed up, he looked up from it most of the time, making eye contact with them. The kids were so energised, and I think that he was, too. He told them how important prayer was and to discern Christ’s direction in their lives and careers. He told them how important it was to make time for daily prayer and — silence. So important.

Blessing the 2012 Olympics

On July 12, 2012, Benedict blessed the Olympic Games:

Let us pray that, according to God’s will, the London Games are a true experience of fraternity among the people of the Earth.

I send greetings to the organizers, athletes and spectators alike, and I pray that, in the spirit of the Olympic Truce, the good will generated by this international sporting event may bear fruit, promoting peace and reconciliation throughout the world. Upon all those attending the London Olympic Games, I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

Benedict’s resignation

On February 11, 2013, Benedict XVI announced his resignation, something a Pontiff had not done for 600 years, since Celestine V.

That evening, lightning hit the dome of St Peter’s Basilica.

On February 12, USA Today reported:

An apparent photo of a lightning bolt striking St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican Monday night (left) — the same day that Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, stunning the world — has gone viral.

Filippo Monteforte, a photographer with Agence France Press, told England’s Daily Mirror that “I took the picture from St. Peter’s Square while sheltered by the columns. It was icy cold and raining sheets. When the storm started, I thought that lightning might strike the rod, so I decided it was worth seeing whether – if it DID strike – I could get the shot at exactly the right moment.”

Monteforte waited for more than two hours and was rewarded for his patience with not one but two bolts, the Mirror reported.

But could it be fake? One expert, AccuWeather meteorologist and lightning photographer Jesse Ferrell, thinks it’s real. In addition to the account from Monteforte — a trusted and well-known photographer — Ferrell sees telltale signs of a genuine lightning strike.

“I believe the photo is plausible, and since it was taken by a professional, with potential video to back it up, I’d say that the photo is legitimate,” Ferrell writes on his blog.

Also, he notes that thunderstorms were present in Rome Monday afternoon, according to several Facebook users.

The article closes with a video of the dramatic lightning strike, something to behold. With the second bolt, it looked as if the dome was going to explode.

Benedict’s last official act was to address the College of Cardinals in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall on February 28, 2013. That was the first day of his retirement. He became Pope Emeritus.

Traditionalists were appalled at the resignation and wondered what it meant for future Popes. Could they be pushed out of the way by senior clergy or by laypeople? In any event, Benedict seemed to have no regrets, and Francis clearly became flavour of the month to most people, including those in the media.

90th birthday

The Pope Emeritus celebrated his 90th birthday in Rome with fellow Bavarians.

April 16, 2017 also happened to be Easter Sunday.

Breitbart has an article and photos from the day, which shows him enjoying a stein of beer. His guests are dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing.

Benedict gave a rare speech inside the Vatican. He said:

My heart is filled with gratitude for the 90 years that the good God has given me.

There have also been trials and difficult times, but through it all He has always led me and pulled me through, so that I could continue on my path.

The article continued:

Surrounded by friends and well-wishers from his native Bavaria on his birthday, Benedict said he was full of thanks in a special way for his “beautiful homeland,” adorned with “church towers, houses with balconies filled with flowers, and good people.”

Bavaria is beautiful, Benedict reminisced, “because God is known there and people know that He has created the world and that we do well to build it up together with Him.”

“I am glad that we were able to gather together under the beautiful blue Roman sky,” he continued, “which with its white clouds also reminds us of the white and blue flag of Bavaria—it is always the same sky.”

“I wish you all God’s blessings,” he said. “Carry my greetings home, as well as my gratitude to you. How I enjoy to continue living and walking about amidst our landscapes in my heart.”

Church ‘on the verge of collapsing’

Two months after his 90th birthday, on July 16, 2017, Benedict prepared a written message to be delivered by his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, in Cologne Cathedral at the funeral Mass of his close friend, Cardinal Joachim Meisner.

Breitbart reported:

In the text, Benedict said that Cardinal Meisner “found it difficult to leave his post, especially at a time in which the Church stands in particularly pressing need of convincing shepherds who can resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the age and who live and think the faith with determination.”

What moved me all the more, Benedict said, was that, “in this last period of his life, he learned to let go and to live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.”

This appears to have been in response to Pope Francis lack of response to Cardinal Meisner’s question, a dubio:

Notably, Cardinal Meisner was one of the four cardinals who presented a series of questions, or “dubia,” to Pope Francis last September, asking him to clarify five serious doctrinal doubts proceeding from his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) concerning Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried, the indissolubility of marriage, and the proper role of conscience.

The other three prelates who submitted the questions to the Pope were Cardinal Raymond Burke, patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta; Carlo Caffarra, archbishop emeritus of Bologna; and Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences.

When Pope Francis failed to respond to the dubia, the four cardinals published their questions publicly last November.

“The Holy Father has decided not to respond,” they wrote. “We have interpreted his sovereign decision as an invitation to continue the reflection and the discussion, calmly and with respect.”

Final visit to brother, also a priest

On August 3, 2020, Sky News reported that Benedict had travelled to Germany to see his brother, the Revd Georg Ratzinger, for the final time.

Afterwards, he had a bout of shingles, although, fortunately, they were on his face rather than around his waistline:

Sky News reported on the visit between the two priestly brothers:

The 93-year-old retired pontiff has become very frail and his voice is barely audible, author Peter Seewald told German daily Passauer Neue Presse.

However, German-born Benedict met with Mr Seewald on Saturday and appeared optimistic, adding that he might pick up writing again if he regains his strength, according to the paper.

Benedict visited his native Bavaria in June to pay his ailing brother Reverend Georg Ratzinger a final visit.

Mr Ratzinger, aged 96, died shortly afterwards.

It was Benedict’s first trip outside Italy since 2013, the year he resigned the papacy.

The retired pope has lived in a monastery in Vatican City since shortly after his retirement.

Spiritual testament

On August 29, 2006, Benedict XVI finalised his spiritual testament, which the Holy See released upon his death on December 31, 2022:

When, at this late hour of my life, I look back on the decades I have wandered through, I see first of all how much reason I have to give thanks. Above all, I thank God Himself, the giver of all good gifts, who has given me life and guided me through all kinds of confusion; who has always picked me up when I began to slip, who has always given me anew the light of his countenance. In retrospect, I see and understand that even the dark and arduous stretches of this path were for my salvation and that He guided me well in those very stretches.

I thank my parents, who gave me life in difficult times and prepared a wonderful home for me with their love, which shines through all my days as a bright light until today. My father’s clear-sighted faith taught us brothers and sisters to believe and stood firm as a guide in the midst of all my scientific knowledge; my mother’s heartfelt piety and great kindness remain a legacy for which I cannot thank her enough. My sister has served me selflessly and full of kind concern for decades; my brother has always paved the way for me with the clear-sightedness of his judgements, with his powerful determination, and with the cheerfulness of his heart; without this ever-new going ahead and going along, I would not have been able to find the right path.

I thank God from the bottom of my heart for the many friends, men and women, whom He has always placed at my side; for the co-workers at all stages of my path; for the teachers and students He has given me. I gratefully entrust them all to His goodness. And I would like to thank the Lord for my beautiful home in the Bavarian foothills of the Alps, in which I was able to see the splendour of the Creator Himself shining through time and again. I thank the people of my homeland for allowing me to experience the beauty of faith time and again. I pray that our country will remain a country of faith and I ask you, dear compatriots, not to let your faith be distracted. Finally, I thank God for all the beauty I was able to experience during the various stages of my journey, but especially in Rome and in Italy, which has become my second home.

I ask for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart from all those whom I have wronged in some way.

What I said earlier of my compatriots, I now say to all who were entrusted to my service in the Church: Stand firm in the faith! Do not be confused! Often it seems as if science – on the one hand, the natural sciences; on the other, historical research (especially the exegesis of the Holy Scriptures) – has irrefutable insights to offer that are contrary to the Catholic faith. I have witnessed from times long past the changes in natural science and have seen how apparent certainties against the faith vanished, proving themselves not to be science but philosophical interpretations only apparently belonging to science – just as, moreover, it is in dialogue with the natural sciences that faith has learned to understand the limits of the scope of its affirmations and thus its own specificity. For 60 years now, I have accompanied the path of theology, especially biblical studies, and have seen seemingly unshakeable theses collapse with the changing generations, which turned out to be mere hypotheses: the liberal generation (Harnack, Jülicher, etc.), the existentialist generation (Bultmann, etc.), the Marxist generation. I have seen, and see, how, out of the tangle of hypotheses, the reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging anew. Jesus Christ is truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life – and the Church, in all her shortcomings, is truly His Body.

Finally, I humbly ask: pray for me, so that the Lord may admit me to the eternal dwellings, despite all my sins and shortcomings. For all those entrusted to me, my heartfelt prayer goes out day after day.

Tomorrow’s post will conclude with lesser-known facts about and insights into Benedict XVI.

Eternal rest grant unto your servant, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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Bible read me 4The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-15

Final Instructions and Benediction

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle,[a] encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

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Happy New Year to all my readers! May 2023 turn out to be a time of fulfilled personal hopes and dreams, despite our present economic and socio-political malaise.

Last week’s post looked at Paul’s verses on brotherly love in light of sanctification.

Today’s verses address relationships within the church.

I have no idea why these are not in the Lectionary, because every congregation needs to hear them.

As John MacArthur says of the first two verses (emphases mine):

Those two verses speak of the issue of the relationship between pastors and people, shepherds and sheep.  And, beloved, I say to you this is where health in the church begins Nothing is more devastating to the spiritual progress of a church than an unwholesome relationship between the shepherds and the sheep.  You can’t have a healthy flock with that kind of problem.  If shepherds are not fulfilling their proper spiritual responsibility to the sheep, and sheep are not fulfilling their proper spiritual responsibility to the shepherd, the church can never be what God intends it to be.  It cannot break down at that very, very significant level.  The relationship that we have with you and you have with us as leaders is crucial in the church.  And, frankly, devastation of a massive proportion occurs in churches where there is a breakdown of confidence, trust, love, affection between shepherds and sheep.  When integrity goes, and credibility goes, and confidence goes, and trust goes, and love goes, and affection goes, at the point of that relationship, you have devastated the life of that church.  And even though there are only two verses committed to this, the truths herein are replete throughout the New Testament, and we could literally spend months just tracking out the things that you’re going to see in these two verses

Paul begins by saying that the Thessalonians are to respect those who labour among them — the church leaders — who are over them in authority in the Lord and there to admonish them (verse 12).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains the duties of those who are called to ordained ministry:

Their work is very weighty, and very honourable and useful. (1.) Ministers must labour among their people, labour with diligence, and unto weariness (so the word in the original imports); they must labour in the word and doctrine, 1 Tim 5 17. They are called labourers, and should not be loiterers. They must labour with their people, to instruct, comfort, and edify them. And, (2.) Ministers are to rule their people also, so the word is rendered, 1 Tim 5 17. They must rule, not with rigour, but with love. They must not exercise dominion as temporal lords; but rule as spiritual guides, by setting a good example to the flock. They are over the people in the Lord, to distinguish them from civil magistrates, and to denote also that they are but ministers under Christ, appointed by him, and must rule the people by Christ’s laws, and not by laws of their own. This may also intimate the end of their office and all their labour; namely, the service and honour of the Lord. (3.) They must also admonish the people, and that not only publicly, but privately, as there may be occasion. They must instruct them to do well, and should reprove when they do ill. It is their duty not only to give good counsel, but also to give admonition, to give warning to the flock of the dangers they are liable to, and reprove for negligence or what else may be amiss.

MacArthur takes us through the Greek words used in the New Testament to define church leaders:

As the New Testament unfolds, it becomes clear who the leaders of the church are.  The leaders of the church are identified under four basic titles, four basic New Testament descriptions, or words, terms.  And you’re familiar with them.  Number one: the very familiar term “elder,” presbuteros Now, that identifies a church leader as one characterized by – mark this – spiritual maturity and wisdom – spiritual maturity and wisdom.  The leaders are those who are spiritually mature, spiritually wise.  That term, elder, is used over and over and over again in the New Testament.  Very early on, as the church is being established in the book of Acts, it is a high priority to make sure that those churches have elders; that is, men who are characterized by spiritual maturity and spiritual wisdom, who can lead the church.  And you find very clear characteristics required of such men given in 1 Timothy chapter 3, Titus chapter 1.  Their duties are outlined without any lack of clarity throughout the New Testament.  We understand very clearly what an elder is: a spiritually mature, spiritually wise man given responsibility to lead the church.

There’s another word that is used to describe this man, this leader; that is the word overseer, sometimes translated by the Old English word bishop.  It is the word episkopos in the Greek; it means to look over, to oversee.  This indicates that the church leader is not only characterized by spiritual maturity and spiritual wisdom, but by spiritual oversight and spiritual authority In this word, you have oversight and authority.  They go together.  And you find, for example, that word used in 1 Timothy 3 and in Titus chapter 1 as the word to describe church leaders.  They are overseers.  It is also used in Philippians 1:1 and Acts 20:28.

Then you have a third word that we’re all familiar with, and that’s the word pastor.  It means shepherd, it comes from poimn.  This indicates that the leader in the church is characterized by spiritual feeding and spiritual protection Here you’re looking at the duty that he has to feed the flock and protect them from the wolves So the leader in the church is characterized by spiritual maturity, spiritual wisdom, spiritual oversight, spiritual authority, spiritual feeding, and spiritual protection.

And there’s a fourth term that is used.  It is the word hgoumenois, which literally means “those who led you.”  And we’ll just use the word leader, or chief.  This indicates that the one who is responsible as an overseer, elder, or pastor should be characterized by spiritual discernment and spiritual guidance.  In other words, he is effective as a leader because he can assess the condition, and move people to a better condition, guide them in a right path.

What then is the leader of the church?  He is a man with spiritual maturity, spiritual wisdom, spiritual oversight, spiritual authority, who spiritually feeds, spiritually protects people, who provide spiritual discernment of their condition, and spiritual guidance to a better place.  That’s the leader.

The Thessalonians needed that guidance because they were such a young congregation. They converted together during Paul’s all too brief time with them. Paul wanted to avoid any conflicts between the congregation and the men he appointed to be leaders before he left.

MacArthur explains:

while there is in this letter no mention of elders, no mention of overseers, no mention of pastors, and no mention of leaders, there is definitely in verse 12 the mention of people who have charge over you So Paul, with apostolic authority, led by the Holy Spirit, had identified certain men, and given them the leadership, and they were really sort of like elders in process.  They don’t bear the title but they were certainly given responsibility and were moving in that direction, and someday, no doubt, would be called elder, overseer, pastor, leaders.  Not yet bearing the title, they were learning the roles of leadership And that wouldn’t have been easy, and I’ll tell you why.  They were all young Christians. They were all sort of equally old in the Lord, which makes it difficult for someone to take the leadership role, when others know that he is no more a mature in terms of time than they are.  It would also be difficult because very likely this church came, for the most part, from the common people, and many of them may have been slaves.  And then when they were selected for spiritual giftedness, and by the apostles, identified through the working of the Holy Spirit, as those gifted by God to be leaders in the church, they would come out of a kind of a lifestyle where they weren’t used to leadership They wouldn’t have come out of the culture as leaders.  They would not have had positions of authority in their society.  So they were learning all about leadership, and all about spiritual wisdom, and all about spiritual maturity, all in one process of development.  So it was not an easy thing.

And it could have been that there was a point of conflict in the Thessalonian church, and some were wondering why these others had charge over them, and they were a little bit nonsubmissive.  And it was that somewhat conflicting situation that promotes these couple of verses, encouraging people to live in peace with each other.  Verse 14 says there were some unruly people, there were some fainthearted, there were some weak, and there were some who demanded patience.  Verse 15 indicates that some people were rendering evil, and you weren’t to give evil back, so there was some conflict in the church.  As I said, it wasn’t fatal and life threatening, but it was there And that kind of conflict in the church could be remedied if the shepherds and the sheep did their proper duties.

MacArthur analyses the verse and includes more from the Greek manuscript. This, too, relates to sanctification. They are doing well, but they can do even better:

Look at verse 12, “But we request of you, brethren” – very amiable.  This is a gentle kind of approach from the Apostle.  It lacks that apostolic dictum that sometimes he can give.  It’s more the request from a friend.  He used the same phrase, by the way, in chapter 4, verse 1, again not threatening them, because they were doing so well.  Here he is saying the same thing: “You’re doing well in your relationship shepherds to sheep and sheep to shepherds.  You’re doing well.  I just want to encourage you to do better.”  And so there’s a gentle request here, rather than a threat.

… You’ll look down in verse 12, and you’ll notice this phrase, “Those who labor among you.”  There is the first identifying mark of their pastors, their elders, their leaders, their would-be in-process overseers.  “They diligently labor among you.” The phrase is self-evident.  You don’t need much of an explanation, just a few technical details.  There’s that word kopia again that Paul loves to use that means to work to the point of sweat and exhaustion, to exhibit great exertion and great effort, to work until you’re weary And he characterizes the pastor as one who works diligently, who labors to the point of sweat and exhaustion among his people That is the sphere of his ministry.  His responsibility is not outside the church, it’s not long distance; it’s intimately involved with the church.  Like a shepherd would be intimately involved with the sheep, like a father would be intimately involved with a family, he is to be involved with his people, among the people, in the midst of the people, alongside of them in spiritual labor.  What’s he doing?  Explaining the gospel, explaining the truth, applying the truth, warning them, admonishing them, counseling them, helping them.  Paul, you’ll remember, in Acts 20 went house to house, house to house, teaching the things of God with great dedication, and great effort, touching the personal lives of people, pouring his life into the flock that God had given him, even as any faithful shepherd would do …

This kind of principle is repeated many, many places, but no better is it stated than in Colossians 1:28, where Paul says, “We proclaim Christ, admonishing every man, teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ.”  It’s an absolutely astounding goal

A faithful shepherd knows his sheep, and touches their lives, and pours his whole life into them.  That’s his calling.  That’s his duty.  That’s his responsibility.  And yet there are so many in the ministry who give so little to the church they’re in. They take a lot; spend their time in other places, and other enterprises.  First Timothy 4:10, he says, “It is this for which we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men.”  And again he used that word kopia and agnizomai We work to the point of sweat and exhaustion, and we agonize because we are dealing with eternal matters

Secondly, he not only has responsibility to labor among the sheep, but secondly, authority over the sheep; and that is very clearly indicated.  Look at that verse 12 again, “And have charge over you in the Lord – and have charge over you in the Lord.”  Charge over you, proistmi, means to stand before someone, or to preside, or to lead, or to direct.  It’s used in 1 Timothy chapter 3 three times, verse 4, 5 and 12, and 1 Timothy 5:17 in reference to elders, and pastors, and leaders in the church, and it means to be in charge, to have authority.  It is a delegated authority, admittedly; delegated by Christ. But we stand in the place of Christ – we are under-shepherds, under the great Shepherd, as Peter calls Him.  Notice it says, “We have charge over you”

Please notice the little phrase “in the Lord.”  We’re not self-appointed.  It’s not manmade.  You didn’t give us that authority.  We didn’t take it on our own.  It’s not from men.  We are called, equipped, appointed by God.  It is our duty to rule for His sake, the Lord’s sake, not for personal power, personal prestige, personal gain, personal career advancement, but for the Lord.  That little phrase “in the Lord” is the sphere in which our authority rests.  Our authority is in Him.  He delegated it to us.  We only have it as we’re obedient to His Word and His will.  We have a delegated authority.  It is not our own, and it does not go beyond the expression of His will, in His Word and through His Spirit.  And so, we are given authority, but only in the Lord, not beyond that

And then thirdly, and finally – and these are very simple and direct – the end of verse 12 says, “And give you instruction.”  The third responsibility of shepherds to the sheep is instruction for the sheep.  Labor among the sheep, authority over the sheep, instruction for the sheep – and give you instruction.  That’s from the verb nouthete, which is often translated in the New Testament “admonish.”  You’ve seen it many times, the word “admonish” in your Bible.  And basically, it is instruction, but instruction with a view toward correction It carries the idea of if you keep going this way you’re going to have problems; you’ve got to turn and go this way.  It is not pedantic, it is not academic, it is not just data, it is not just information, it is instruction with a view toward changing people, toward correcting them.  And I tell young men in teaching them to preach, you always preach for change, you always preach for verdict, for someone to say, “I’m here, I ought to be there, this is what I need to do” – always.  Every sermon, in principle, is to take people to the point where they see what they ought to be, where they see what they are not, and move them toward what they ought to be.  So it’s teaching with an element of warning, an element of correction, an element of channeling them toward holy living We could say it’s tender instruction toward holy living.  It’s used in 1 Corinthians 4:14 of how a father instructs his beloved children.  Paul telling the Corinthians that “I taught you like a father teaching beloved children, I admonished you.”  You gently, tenderly instruct them, away from those things that hurt them, toward those things that bless them.  And, of course, the source of that is the Word of God, isn’t it? 

And shepherds then are to be skilled instructors – skilled instructors.  And by the way, that’s the only specific skill that they are said to have to have in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1.  The only skill out of all the character qualities, the only skill is they are to be apt to teach, 1 Timothy 3:2, skilled teachers.  First Timothy 4:6 and 1 Timothy 4:16 reiterate the importance of their teaching responsibility.  These leaders of the church, these shepherds are to be skilled teachers.  Why?  Well, you look at Titus 1 for a moment, verse 9, “So that they can hold fast the faithful Word which is in accordance with the doctrine.”  In other words, for the positive effort of holding fast the faithful Word according to sound doctrine.  In other words, so they can teach the truth.  Then, in order that they may be able to exhort in sound doctrine, and refute those who contradict, positive and negative You want to exhort those who believe the truth to do the truth, you want to exhort those who deny the truth to give up their error and accept the truth.  So it’s a positive and a negative.  You have to build your instruction then around the knowledge of the truth and skill in applying it. 

Having addressed the responsibilities of the leader, the shepherd, Paul turns his attention to the sheep, telling the Thessalonians to esteem their leaders very highly for the nature of their work and to be at peace among themselves (verse 13) — and with the church leader, the shepherd — to enable that work to take place unhindered.

MacArthur says that sheep are not the easiest animals to manage:

Now let’s go to the responsibility of the sheep to their shepherds.  And this is very, very basic.  I mean, the church has to know this This is the bottom line in our relationship together.  Sometimes sheep can be very hard on shepherds ... If you’ve ever worked with sheep, and I have been exposed to them just enough to know they are weak, helpless, unorganized, prone to wander, demanding, dirty, and have sharp hooves

Sheep can make life joyless for the shepherd if they don’t follow the path of their duty.  They can make life miserable if they’re not obedient.  So let’s look at the three characteristics or principles that we’re enjoined as sheep toward our shepherds … 

The first thing that the congregation is to give to the leaders, the elders, pastors, is respect that incorporates care in remuneration – to support them, to double honor them, being generous, not just a bare minimum so they have to scrape by, but showing great generosity, and respect, and admiration to them knowing they will be good stewards of what you give them.  What is the congregation’s responsibility?  Respect, admiration, honor, appreciation.

Secondly – and this builds right on that – esteem them.  He says down in verse 13, “and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”  Now, this is very much like the first one, not a lot of difference; to esteem, hgeomai, means to consider or to regard; to think.  It means to go a little deeper than the first duty, because it says you are to esteem them how – very highly You know what that is in the Greek?  Beyond all measure – beyond all measure.  And then the key word: “in love – in love, because of their work.”  Not because of their personality – this is not a personality contest – because of their work.  You are to regard them beyond all measure.  You are to regard a faithful pastor beyond all measure.  The point is there’s no limit.  There’s no limit to the regard you ought to have for that man, to the love you ought to have for that man.  You are to love that man.

What does love mean?  It means sacrificial service to him.  It means affection for him.  Not because of his personality, not because he’s done favors for you, but because of his work – because he ministers to you the Word of God, because he feeds your needy soul In Galatians you would notice, chapter 4 and verse 14, Paul says, “That which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you didn’t despise or loathe.”  Paul had some bodily condition that made him repulsive to be around, and he says, “You didn’t loathe that.”  There was nothing attractive about the man, nothing at all.  “You didn’t loathe it.  You received me as an angel of God.  You received me as Christ Jesus Himself” …

And finally, and thirdly, he says in verse 13, “Live in peace with one another.”  That’s the third thing: submit to your shepherds.  There is nothing more grieving, more distracting, more difficult, more painful than discord in the church.  That concept of living in peace with one another is a very familiar New Testament exhortation.  We know about it.  It’s all over the New Testament, and you can find it in Romans 14:19, in 2 Corinthians 13:11, in Ephesians 4:3, Colossians 3:15, James 3:18 – over and over again, the New Testament calls for peace.  But here it’s very specific.  Here it is in this context of the relation between the sheep and the shepherd, and it should be a peaceful one Submit to your shepherds, is the point.  Submit.  No strife.  Eliminate conflict.  Obviously, it presupposes a faithful shepherd And where a man is faithful in doing the best that he can in the strength of the Spirit of God, you are to submit to that.  That’s a command of Scripture …

So he says, “Obey.”  Stubborn, self-willed people will steal the joy of their pastors, and give them grief You want a miserable church?  Have a miserable pastor.  You want a miserable pastor?  Don’t submit, and you’ll take his joy away, and he’ll be a miserable man, and you’ll be a miserable people.  Stubborn, self-willed people steal the joy of their leaders, and give themselves nothing but pain.  “That’s unprofitable for you,” he says.  It isn’t going to help you.  That isn’t going to work for you, to have a grieving shepherd, to have a joyless shepherd.

Then Paul tells the Thessalonians how they are to deal with each other in a church context.

He urges them to admonish the idle, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak — and be patient with them all (verse 14).

That is a tough call.

MacArthur explains more about these troublesome groups, all of which can be found in any congregation:

Church growth, from the spiritual standpoint, which is the only standpoint God has any concern about, is in direct proportion to how well we deal with the failures in our midst.  Paul wants to help us to do that by giving us these two verses in our text which we’ll look at in a few moments, but if we were to sort of step back and take a look at the church and say, well, how could we categorize the problem people in the church?

We might come up with five categories, five categories of problem people that retard the growth and the power of the church.  Group number one, we’ll call the wayward, the wayward.  They’re never in step.  They’re always out of synch.  They’re always out of line.  They’re never with the program.  When everybody else is moving ahead, they’re going backwards.  When everybody else is filling up the ranks in proper order, they’re outside that somewhere failing to do their duty, not particularly interesting in serving, sometimes not at all interested in giving, idle, perhaps even loafing.  They’re in the way of the progress.  Disorderly, they might be.  Even AWOL, they might be.  Apathetic, they might be, sometimes contentious, sometimes rebellious, and I suppose they fill up the spectrum all the way from apathy to rebellion.

They’re the wayward.  They’re just never going the way everybody’s going in the proper line.  They’re at odds with everything. 

A second group we might identify that hinder the growth and the life and the power of the church, we’ll call the worried.  The worried.  This group is basically motivated by fear.  These are the people in the church who have no courage, who will articulate the famous words “We’ve never done it that way before,” who can give you ten reasons why you can’t do anything you propose to do.

They have no sense of adventure.  They hate change.  They love tradition.  They fear the unknown.  They want no risk.  They worry about everything.  All the issues of life are far more than they can bear.  They’re usually sad, always worried, sometimes in despair, often depressed, discouraged and defeated.  They carry none of the zeal, the joy, the thrill, the exuberance that adventure brings. 

We could probably identify a third group We could call them the weak.  The weak.  They’re just spiritually and morally weak.  Christians who, because of their weak faith, because of the weak disciplines of their life, are susceptible to sin, and they fall into the same sins over and over, and you barely get them up and dust them off and they’re back in the same hole again.  They find it very hard to do God’s Will consistently.  They embarrass themselves.  They embarrass the church.  They embarrass the Lord.  They take an awful lot of attention.  They test how good a church is at church discipline and usually run you all the way to at least step two.

If we were to identify a fourth group, we could call them the wearisome.  The wearisome.  Another word for that would be frustrating, but it doesn’t start with W.  These are the wearisome, the foot draggers.  They’re inline, but they’re just going at the wrong speed.  They never catch up.  You keep teaching them, and you keep training them, and you keep discipling them.  And you pour all of this energy into them, and every time you look around to see how close they might be, they look like they’re farther away.  Everything distracts them.  They have a great difficulty concentrating, great difficulty focusing.  They’re just very exasperating because you make the maximum effort and you get the minimum return.  They don’t move and grow at the pace that would be considered normal. 

Finally, group five would be the outright wicked.  The wicked.  They do evil.  Christians who do evil.  They commit sins against other Christians right in the church.  They break up marriages.  They defile daughters.  They steal.  They gossip.  They slander.  They falsely accuse.  They’re just wicked. 

Now you understand that, as the church endeavors to grow, it’s got to deal with these five groups, the wayward, the worried, the weak, the wearisome and the wicked, and no wonder growing a healthy flock is such a challenging enterprise because all these folks need healing spiritually

MacArthur rightly criticises today’s popular view of church growth, a conceptual programme in nearly every denomination:

Now, with all that’s being said and all that’s being written about church growth, all the sophisticated data, all the homogeneity principles, all the cultural demographics, all the subtle strategies, all the entertainment methods, all the advertising technique that are supposed to be the keys to building the church and growing the church, precious little is being said about how to grow a healthy flock spiritually into Christ likeness by eliminating these problems. 

The Bible never says anything about homogeneity.  The Bible never says anything about cultural demographics.  The Bible never says anything about subtle strategies.  The Bible never says anything about entertainment methodology.  The Bible never says anything about advertising technique, but it does say, if you want to grow a church, you need to get the impediments out of the way You need to deal with whatever’s retarding that church’s growth, and then when it gets pure and it gets holy, it’ll get moving and it’ll know the Power of God, and it’ll make a massive impact on its culture.

He gives us Paul’s vision for the Thessalonian church — and the Church:

… if you turn to the apostle Paul to learn the principles of church growth, first of all, what you want to find out is what is his goal, what’s he after, what does he want the church to become.  Bigger, wealthier, more popular, more accepted in the community.  Let’s find out what he wanted for the church.

Go back to chapter 1 of 1 Thessalonians.  “This church will a model and an example of what He would have desired for any church.  We give thanks to God always for you all,” he says.  “Making mention of you in our prayers.”  He was very thankful for this church, very thankful. 

Now what was it that caused him to be thankful?  Down at the end of chapter 2, he says, “You are our glory and our joy.”  Over at the end of chapter 5, “Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss,” verse 26.  He’s got a strong affection for this group.  Well, that’s because they were on the way to the right goal.  They were shooting at the right target

Now Paul was very clear about the goal of ministry.  Chapter 2, look at verse 10.  Let’s begin to get a feel about what he was looking at in terms of church development, church growth.  “You are witnesses,” 2 10, “And so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behave toward you believers, just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father with his own children.”

All right.  You’re really working at it.  But what are you trying to do?  So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.  My goal for you is that you walk worthy of the God who called you … 

You see, what he wanted was a strong, mature faithThat was the goal of his prayers and his efforts.  That’s what he was after.  He says now, in this great benediction, “May our God and Father Himself and Jesus, our Lord, direct our way to You.  May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another.”  We want you to love each other more “And for all men, just as we also do for you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father” …

Boy, pretty clear in his mind what church growth meant to him He was after deepening, strengthening of the lives of believers knowing full well that, as you eliminate the impediment presented by the folks that are retarding the church, the church begins to move in power.  So Paul put his major energy, his resources, his prayer and his passion into growing a healthy spiritual flock by transforming the wayward, the worried, the weak, the wearisome and the wicked into the righteous and powerful and effective.

And when the effort was successful, as it was in Thessalonica, he rejoiced. 

MacArthur elaborates on Paul’s advice to the congregation on dealing with troublesome people:

Group one, the wayward, verse 14, Paul writes, “And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly.”  Now that little phrase, admonish the unruly, introduces us to the wayward.  The word, ataktos was often used in a military sense.  When used in the military sense, it had the idea of a soldier who was out of line, a soldier who was out of rank, a soldier who was guilty of disorderly conduct, who was insubordinate, non-submissive, disobeying orders, not following through on his duty.  He was out of step.  It eventually came to mean anybody who does do his duty, anybody who doesn’t follow through on his responsibility.  Moffatt translates it loafers.  Some have suggested quitters, idle, lazy, invalid, apathetic, but it doesn’t have to mean just that. 

It can mean someone who doesn’t do his duty not only out of apathy but someone who doesn’t do his duty out of a rebellion.  In 2 Thessalonians were some cognate forms of this word are used.  This word is used only here in the New Testament – but where some other forms of it are used in 2 Thessalonians 3 versus 6, 7 and, I think, 11. 

In that particular text, it is used to refer to some lazy busybodies who don’t work and expect everyone else to do all the work and take care of them.  For us, it refers to the wayward.  They’re out of line.  They’re out of step.  Everybody’s going one direction.  They’re not.  Everybody else understands spiritual duty, is willing to do it, do whatever God’s gifted them to do, get involved in the service whether it means that I’m serving the Lord with my gifts, I’m giving as God as prospered me, I’m behind the leadership of the church, I’m supporting the direction we’re going, I’m onboard, I’m on the team, I’m participating, I’m a part, I’m involved.  That’s the kind of person that makes the church move and grow

A.T. Robertson said the verb nouthete means to put sense into it, to come alongside and put some sense into their head One writer says, “Is the idea of coming to someone, who is following a path that ultimately ends in serious consequences, and instructing him about the inevitability of those consequences.”  In other words, the word can be translated to warn someone.  It doesn’t have the idea of distant judgmentalism. 

It doesn’t have the idea of criticism from a vantage point of superiority.  It has the sense of coming along closely and intimately and showing someone the consequences of their conduct.  It’s as simple as saying, “I’ve been watching you, and I see your indifference.  You come now and then, not faithfully, to the church.  You’re not involved in a ministry.  You’re negative about certain things, or you’re critical about certain things.”  And saying to the person, “You realize, don’t you, that, if you continue in that path, these are the consequences, and I don’t think you want those consequences nor do I want you to experience those consequences.”

It’s that gentle kind of warning that come alongside and says you’re going in a direction, the end of which will be a major disappointment to you.  It’s a warning that Paul gave to the Ephesian elders with tears, according to Act 21:31.  There’s a passion in it.  There’s a hurt in it that says I don’t want you to keep doing that because the end of that road is major consequences.  For God will chasten such apathies, such rebellion, insubordination, such disorderly conduct.

When you truly love somebody, you don’t hesitate to warn them ... I want you to know the fullness of God’s blessing, the fullness of God’s provision, and I want to see the church all it can be

Group two is the worried.  They’re not on the edge.  They’re huddled in the middle.  They don’t want to get near the edge.  They’re huddled in the middle, and he says about them, “Encourage the fainthearted.”  That’s a very interesting term, also used only here.  It’s the term oligopsuchos from two Greek words soul and small.  The small souled

And, surely, the little group of them in Thessalonica, that everybody was trying to get moving, had suffered the most from the two big problems Problem number one was persecution.  They were getting persecuted, and Paul says, “You should have expected it.  I read that to you.”  In chapter 2, “You should have expected it.  I mean, I told you.”

The other problems afflicting the worried is that they thought they had missed our Lord’s Second Coming and they were sorrowful about the death of their church friends:

So he has to write and say, “No, no, no.  The dead in Christ will rise first.  They’ll be there.  In fact, they’ll get there before the rest of you do.  So go get those people and comfort them with these words.”

Therefore, Paul tells the Thessalonians to comfort those people and set them right in a pleasing way:

Sheep-to-sheep, folks, you know somebody that’s fearful and worried and under despair all the time and sad, can’t get above the problems of life, you’ve got to come alongside and speak to them, develop a friendly relationship with them, has the idea of coming alongside to console, to comfort to strengthen, to reassure, to cheer up, to refresh, to soothe, but there’s no other way than in a relationship.

Then there are those who are weak, as in weaker brethren who are not yet capable of being stronger brethren:

This is category group number three.  The weak.  So what do you mean the weak?  Well, weak in faith certainly could be an element of it.  We have identified, by the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and in Romans 14 and 15, a concept that is called the weaker brother.  Remember that? 

All that means is that his faith is weak.  He doesn’t have a strong enough faith to experience all of the liberty and freedom that belongs to him or her in Christ.  The faith is weak.  A weak faith creates a problem.  What is that problem?  A weak faith  means that that person is very susceptible to temptation and sin.  It’s a hypersensitivity to sin.  In fact, they’re so hypersensitive to it that they see things as sin that aren’t really sin at all and so they tend to pull back

The church is full of these kinds of people.  Believe me, they are impediments and stumbling blocks.  They retard the development of the church, the growth and the power of the church.  What are we to do with them?  Help them.  Help is such a simplistic word for such a magnificent concept in Greek.  The Greek word means to hold firmly to, to hold tightly to, to cling to, to support, to hold them up.  Galatians 6:1 says, if a brother’s overtaken in a fall, you that are spiritual what?  Pick him up.  And then it says bear one another’s burden.  That’s the second step.  Hold him up.  Hold him up.  Hold him up.  Support. 

How do you do that?  Again, it’s intimacy.  You come alongside.  This is how the church grows when the sheep start to take care of the sheep, when they start to care enough to go to the wayward and admonish them, when they care enough to go to the worried and encourage them, when they care enough to go to the weak and hold them up.  That means involvement. 

Then there are the wearisome. They need patience — and a lot of it:

Then there’s group four, the wearisomeHe says, “Be patient with all men.”  Well, you have to qualify all men.  The all has to refer to the people with whom we would easily become impatient.  “Be patient with all men.  Be patient with all the men who try your patience.” 

It’s easy to get frustrated.  It’s easy to get angry, easy to get disappointed, discouraged, exasperated with some people.  You give so much.  You give so much.  You give so much.  You give so much.  You get so little

That’s very, very difficult.  You can hear it in the voice of Jesus says – he says, in exasperation to some extent short of sin, “Oh, you of little faith.”  I mean when are you blockheads going to get this?  And what does he say we’re to do with those people?  Be patient.  You say, “How patient?”  More patient than you’ve been.  You say, “How patient?”  As patient as God is with you.  Oh, that patient?  Hmm.  That’s pretty patient. 

As for the wicked, Paul says that no one must repay evil for evil but should seek to do good to fellow church members and to everyone else (verse 15).

MacArthur explains:

Don’t you step into the wrath and take your own revenge.  You leave room for the wrath of God for it is written, and here, he’s quoting out of the Old Testament, “’Vengeance is Mine.  I will repay,’ says the Lord.”  “Vengeance is mine.  I will repay.  I’ll take care of that not you.  On the other hand, if your enemy is hungry, you feed him, and if he is thirsty, you give him drink, and in so doing, you will heap burning coals of guilt upon his head.  Don’t be overcome by the evil he does to you but overcome that evil with the good you do to him.’”  See that? 

Now you can go back to 1 Thessalonians.  The only one who has a right to retaliate is God.  You say, “What about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and a life for a life?”  That was a governmental mandate that the government had the right to punish equally the criminal.  The government had the right to exact a life for a life, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  That was never instruction for personal vengeance.  That’s what Jesus intended the disciples to understand and the Jews to hear in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Yeah, you think you’re supposed to hate your enemy.  You’ve perverted the Law of God to that degree.  I’m here to tell you you are to love your enemy, and you are to do good to those that do evil to you.

So how do we treat those who do evil to us?  We always, always, always seek after, pursue, purse eagerly, pursue zealously that which is good, beautiful, noble, excellent.  In other words, you say, “Well, in spite of what they’ve done to me, I’m going to do everything I can to do what is good to them, to do what is noble and excellent to them.  In an act of love, I am going to return their hostility with goodness and not just for them but for everybody, for everybody, for all men especially the household of faith,” Paul said elsewhere but to everyone.

In conclusion, MacArthur says:

A growing flock is characterized by movement in faith, love, purity toward the fullness of the stature of Christ.  That’s a growing church.  That growth is impeded by the wayward and the worried and the weak and the wearisome and the wicked, and if the church is going to grow, it isn’t going to grow because somebody figures out some strategy to go around the problem.  It’s going to grow because the shepherds and the sheep come together in intimate relationships in which they admonish the wayward, encourage the worried, hold up the weak, are long suffering with the wearisome and render loving goodness to the wicked.

And as a church takes that shape and that form, it will be a growing and a powerful church We need to commit ourselves to being what the church really is, and this is it. 

Henry concludes similarly, advising us to take care of our fellow Christians first, then everyone else:

In general, we must study to do what is our duty, and pleasing to God, in all circumstances, whether men do us good turns or ill turns; whatever men do to us, we must do good to others. We must always endeavour to be beneficent and instrumental to promote the welfare of others, both among ourselves (in the first place to those that are of the household of faith), and then, as we have opportunity, unto all men, Gal 6 10.

These are the closing verses of 1 Thessalonians:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

25 Brothers, pray for us.

26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.

27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Next week’s entry will be from 2 Thessalonians 1, in which Paul discusses the Lord’s revenge on the wicked.

Next time — 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

A few weeks ago, a fellow Anglican and I were chatting about the peculiar archbishops in the Church of England (CofE).

‘They’re rather political, aren’t they?’ the woman asked.

I agreed and said, ‘Their job is to save souls.’

She looked at me, wide-eyed, as if this were some sort of revelation.

Apparently, it is a revelation as the results of the 2021 census show that the last time there have been so few Christians in Britain was during … the Dark Ages:

In just ten years, the percentage of British Christians has decreased from 59.3% (33.3 million) in 2011 to 46.2% (27.5 million) in 2021:

Proportionally, Wales on its own has a higher percentage of unbelievers than England:

This is an interesting video about religion in London:

Some people will rejoice at the news. However, the online editor of The Critic, Sebastian Milbank, warns of what happens in secular societies:

On Saturday, December 3, 2022, the Archbishop of York, the Right Revd Stephen Cottrell, wrote about the census for The Telegraph: ‘Christianity is not in terminal decline in Britain, whatever the census might say’.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

He writes:

Some commentators have responded to the census data about religious affiliation released last week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) by predicting the terminal decline of Christianity in our nation or declaring this as a statistical watershed moment …

Though the most common response to the voluntary question of religious affiliation remains “Christian,” there was a 13.1 percentage decrease from 2011 to 2021.

The ONS clarifies that these figures are about “the religion with which [respondents] connect or identify, rather than their beliefs or active religious practice.”

I do not find the trend in the responses to this particular question surprising: we have left behind the time when many people almost automatically identified as Christian.

Cottrell says that some British churches are very successful:

There are fewer people in the pews on a typical Sunday morning than a few decades ago but, at the same time, some of our churches – of all traditions and styles – are growing significantly …

It’s hard to know what churches he speaks of, but I would assume Evangelical ones that have nothing to do with the established church, the CofE. After all, the CofE rolled out local church growth programmes this year.

He posits that people are doing Christianity differently:

These apparently contrasting statistical snapshots inform a more complicated, though incomplete story, which is not one of terminal decline for religious faith nor Christianity, but more about how individuals in our ever-changing nation and culture choose to express their identity.

Hmm. I’m not so sure. In any case, that is a characteristically watery and woolly excuse, so prominent among today’s Anglican hierarchy.

He says:

the story that defines our identity has never been one of overwhelming numerical growth nor fear of extinction. Amid the complexities of identity, values and nation, Christians strive to live by the story of the Good News of Jesus Christ – a story notable for the absence of success by the world’s usual standards.

Yes, but, all the same, the CofE archbishops — York and Canterbury — are presiding over a diminishing church.

The Right Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, went to Ukraine last week. While many Anglican priests applauded his trip there …

… I wonder why he isn’t putting the same energy into getting those living in England back to church:

Personally, I think Welby went because it was a political mission for him.

Cottrell recounts the Christmas story, which also involves a census:

A watershed moment in that story happened when “Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” The events that then unfolded will be shared by millions of people in the UK this Christmas.

They will hear the baby Jesus described as a light that shines in the darkness. His story is not a tale of linear success, but about how that light shines through the difficult realities of our lives and finally overcomes all darkness.

A baby is born helpless in a stable to a very young mother in an occupied country. The family is threatened with murder and flees as refugees.

As he grows, Jesus will reject worldly power and wealth. He will feast and celebrate. He will weep and mourn. He will sit with the lonely. He will sit with his enemies. He will be loved and hated, cherished and betrayed.

He will suffer injustice and die a criminal’s death. And – as Christians believe – he will rise on Easter Sunday, and secure light rather than darkness as the very final word.

That’s the fundamental story that shapes Christian identity.

And it is why I am full of hope …

That hope started with a census.

Hmm.

For me, the Christmas story starts with the Annunciation, with the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, telling her that she would bear a child whose name would be Jesus.

Mary then visited her ageing cousin Elizabeth, also with child. Her son was John the Baptist, the prophet who heralded Jesus and His ministry. Mary’s words to Elizabeth are known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), which begins as follows:

1    My soul doth magnify the Lord :

and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

2    For he hath regarded :

the lowliness of his handmaiden.

3    For behold, from henceforth :

all generations shall call me blessed.

4    For he that is mighty hath magnified me :

and holy is his Name.

5    And his mercy is on them that fear him :

throughout all generations.

Cottrell ends by expressing Christianity in a very secular manner, although as with any wonky way of expressing it, there is always a germ of truth. Christians are the mainstay of combining practical and spiritual support:

… right now, across our nation Christians are offering practical help and spiritual support to anyone in need.

This winter, perhaps more than ever before, food and warmth and companionship are being made available by Christians.

We offer this to all – entirely irrespective of any census answers they may have given. And this dedication and service will continue, whatever the statistical trend.

Christians in our nation are part of a global faith: the largest movement on Earth, which is its greatest hope for a peaceful, sustainable future.

I can’t say that Cottrell’s article was particularly compelling. If I were an unbeliever, I certainly wouldn’t feel moved to attend church because of it.

As the Revd Marcus Walker, the rector of St Bartholomew The Great in the City of London, asks how we got here. As is so often the case, the laity offer informed answers, i.e. blaming the hierarchy:

This woman is right in saying that Anglican churches must return to focusing on God:

Advent is a great time for Anglican churches to attract converts. Most have choral concerts and quite a few offer Evensong:

For some attending, music goes straight to parts of the soul that liturgy or a sermon cannot reach:

I like Marcus Walker a lot and am glad that he is in charge of London’s oldest church that is still operating. St Bartholomew the Great was founded in 1123.

Another priest I like is the Revd Giles Fraser, who used to be the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral. He is now the vicar of St Anne’s in Kew, West London.

Giles Fraser rightly objects to the CofE hierarchy telling churches not to hold their carol services on the day of the World Cup final this month:

An even worse CofE idea is to show the final in church instead. Horrible:

Fraser says that we are called to be faithful, not successful:

It does not sound as if he is big on the church growth strategy:

In an UnHerd article, Fraser gave his suggestions on how Christianity can flourish again in the UK:

Excerpts from ‘Secularisation is leading Britain astray’ follow:

The results of the 2021 census, announced this week, tell us that we are a minority Christian country, with just 46% self-defining as Christian. The humanists are gleeful. And the treasurer tells me we are again set to lose tens of thousands of pounds next year. Churches in poorer areas may not survive the coming storm. Ones set in the leafy suburbs may be able to reinvent themselves as fancy conference venues — but both will be subject to a kind of death.

Of course, the universal church isn’t in this situation. It remains the largest movement on earth, despite a little local difficulty in this part of the world. It just goes to highlight the woeful parochialism of so much of our media coverage. The narrative of secularisation, and of its inevitability, is linked to that dodgy old Enlightenment idea of progress — which is as much a matter of wilful faith as anything said from the pulpit. Numerically speaking, the 20th century was the Church’s best since its creation

Despite the success of the church worldwide, we are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful. The central image of the Christian faith is of a man being strung up on a cross, mocked for his claims to royal authority. Whatever the outcome of this cosmic interruption, whatever its meaning, triumphalism has little place amongst the detritus of spears and spit that attended His gruesome end. For Christians, victory is claimed in the manner of His failing. A smaller church is not a failed church any more than a satsuma is a failed orange, as one bishop rightly put it.

He points out where the CofE has gone wrong over the decades:

Generally speaking, however, the leadership of the Church of England is still gripped by the debilitating fear of numerical decline. It nervously responds at every turn with cheesy new initiatives bent on making us relevant and popular. These often have the very opposite of their intended consequences: cathedrals … turning themselves into fun parks of crazy golf or helter skelters. “Please like us,” they plead, desperately, with all the panache (and success rate) of spotty teenagers dousing themselves in cheap aftershave in a bid to make themselves attractive to the opposite sex.

Fraser rightly thinks that people want spiritual gravitas in their lives, something that only the Church can provide:

In part, we have to meet people where they are. But nevertheless, our core mission is responding to a deeper seriousness in people. And chumminess with the divine is not the answer. Where the church is failing its parishioners is how thin our offer can so often be. People don’t want weak jokes from the pulpit — they want fire. And too often we have been short-changing people by simply reflecting back to them an undemanding slate of soft-Left progressive values that they already have.

That is true. Many agnostics have told me that.

These are Fraser’s suggestions to CofE bishops:

There are three things the church leadership needs to hear: the uppermost among them is to stop being so afraid. “Fear not,” is the message of the Christmas angel. If God is in charge then, ultimately, we cannot fail ... We will not be saved by better management, or by a more compelling social media strategy: we will be saved by God or not at all. To say this is not to give us an alibi for inaction or laziness or lack of creativity — simply, to insist that we live or die by our theology.

You’d think we’d have learnt by now that relevance is an unappealing evangelistic strategy. We should be doing the very opposite of proclaiming our faith through the lens of popular culture. A minority church has the freedom to be defiantly culturally different, more learned even. It can be unapologetically serious about those things secular culture shies away from, like death and our need for salvation. We do not need to speak to God as if he were our mate. And we shouldn’t be so scared of people sometimes being a little bored in church: the silence of the monastic cloister is terrifying to a generation weaned on the internet and video games, but it is here that something deeper can be mined. The Church has to stop trying to satisfy every fidgety urge of its visitors.

Finally, we must fight to reclaim that particular strand of English Christianity — associated especially with the Church of England — that regards belonging as preceding believing. Going to church is a little like going to the pub. People speak of “my pub” or “my local” in the way they used to talk about “my church” — or at least they used to. This is a place where you expect to feel at home, where you belong. Here you are welcome whoever you are.

He says there will always be times when the Church waxes and wanes:

… as with all churches that concede to a market model, it is forever subject to the logic of boom and bust. As the Parable of the Sower has it, some seed falls on stony ground and springs up quickly but soon withers because there is no depth of soil.

The latest census has triggered a great deal of doom-mongering. I am merely adding to this, of course. Bishops do an impossible job and mostly do it pretty well, despite all the brickbats they receive. And the church will, of course, survive despite its diminished circumstances.

Fraser concludes by saying that we have much more to fear from a Godless society:

Ironically, I think the secular imagination has far more challenges in store. For once it has finished piggybacking on the inherited deposit of faith, it will have to work out what it believes and why. Not believing in anything, which is the fastest growing position, has nothing to offer as a foundation for many of our moral concerns. As Tom Holland has observed, human rights, for instance, borrow substantially from a Christian worldview. When that worldview disappears from sight, secular culture will be walking on little but thin air. Without a meaningful moral story to underpin it, might will be right and power supreme.

I could not agree more. People will not like what’s coming down the pike in the years ahead.

Marcus Walker was the guest preacher for Evensong at Fraser’s church on Sunday, December 4:

The two priests shared dinner afterwards:

In closing, here is the 2022 welcome to attend an Anglican church this Christmas season. It traces a woman’s Christian journey throughout her life. Fictitious though it is, I am glad the CofE were honest enough to show full pews when she was a little girl and empty seats once she entered widowhood:

The message is that church members will support each other through each stage of life.

I guess it will do.

The Queen’s funeral on September 19 made a much more powerful statement, the closest glimpse of heaven that we will see here on earth. Fortunately, more than 4 billion people around the world watched it.

I hope that the music, the readings and the liturgy bring some of those billions to the light and truth of Christ, who lives and reigns forever and ever.

John F MacArthurYesterday’s post was an exegesis on the Epistle reading from Ephesians 1 for All Saints Day.

In it, I cited John MacArthur’s sermons on Ephesians 1 from August 2021.

Two of those sermons have something more in them: a focus on Christ for the Church and MacArthur’s premise that God has passed divine judgement on us, as Paul discussed in Romans 1.

MacArthur is not normally given to pronouncements of divine judgement in our current era. Nor does he take up socio-political causes, which makes ‘Our Great Savior, Part 1’ and ‘Our Great Savior, Part 2’ all the more interesting.

Let’s look at the second half of Romans 1 (UKESV), emphases mine:

God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practise such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practise them.

I’m old enough to remember that the United States — the world as I knew it, and I was only a child at the time — began changing in the mid-1960s. Every year got stranger and stranger. By the end of the decade, protests took place at universities all over the nation and a particularly violent one occurred at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in the summer of 1968.

The role of the Church

Interestingly, one of MacArthur’s favourite books, an anthology on the Reformation, The Reformation of the Church, was published in 1964.

MacArthur points out that, as long ago as then, the Church was failing in its duty:

… in that anthology of those writers from the seventeenth century, Iain Murray wrote a forward, my dear friend Iain Murray. He wrote this in that same year, 1964—and listen to what he said; and I’m quoting, “At a time when the Christian faith is commanding so little influence on the nation, the church herself should be engaged with questions which affect her own life rather than the life of the masses of the people.”

Wow.

Church has continued to become more worldly in a variety of ways, none of which need mentioning because we all know what they are:

When the church begins to focus on the masses of the people and what the people want, it loses its influence. It almost sounds counterintuitive. Church “experts” would tell you that if the church wants to reach the world, we have to find out what the world wants—when just the opposite is true. The Christian faith will always, always lose its influence when it tries to accommodate the world. You get the opposite results than what you hoped for.

The Church is not called to be worldly but to reveal Christ to the world:

In another statement, “It has become customary for us to act as though the gospel could progress on earth independently of the condition of the church.” Great statement. We think that the character of the church plays apparently a minor role in reaching the world with the gospel. In fact there are so many, these days, so busy trying to find out what the world wants that it’s a very popular notion that the worst thing a church can do, that wants to reach the world, is act like a church. That is the devil’s lie. For the church to reach the world it must refuse to be like the world. It must refuse to define itself by what the world wants, what unbelievers want, what the unconverted desire. The church has one obligation, and that is to be what the Lord of the church commands—not focused on the culture but focused on Christ, not focused on passing social issues, the desires of the devil’s children, but solely on the will of the Lord. Only when churches are what Christ wants them to be are they useful in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

There is nothing in the Bible, in particular, the New Testament, that says the Church should conform itself to the world. Conforming to the world is one of the devil’s best tricks. As I write from England now, I can see that the Anglican Church is on its knees. It is not alone:

Clearly, churches have little influence in the world because they are trying to give the world what it wants, rather than obey the Lord who is the head of the church. There is no text in the entire New Testament that commands the church to give lost sinners what they want; on the other hand the church is to obey the Lord Jesus Christ, to confront the culture as the church. There is nothing in the New Testament that calls the church to change social structures, to be engaged in political efforts, economic efforts. The church that effectively reaches the lost is the church that is relentlessly devoted to being what the Lord of the church commands His church to be. If a church has little influence in the world, don’t ask what the world wants, ask what the Lord requires. Be the church. It has always been our passion here to obey and honor and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ. We have no interest in what the children of the devil want a church to be; that is irrelevant. And furthermore, beyond being irrelevant, it invites the devil in.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a blueprint for the Church and Christian behaviour. The first three chapters focus on the holy mystery of Christ’s bride and the last three chapters tell us how we must act as His followers.

The Reformers, being well read in Scripture, devised the ‘formal principle’, which defines a true church:

The formal principle was simply what the Reformers identified as the truth: that the Word of God is the sole authority in the kingdom of God, and therefore in the church. So the church is to be whatever the Word of God tells it to be. That is the formal principle. We have only one divine revelation for the life of the church, and that is Holy Scripture. And when you get into the New Testament epistles like Ephesians and the rest of them, you find that they are designed to make sure that every subsequent generation of Christians and churches understands the will of the Lord for their life and conduct.

And that is true of the epistles in general, but particularly true of Ephesians. Early on in the ministry here, I wanted to dig into Ephesians because it’s so absolutely definitive as to the life of the church. Here is heaven’s instruction book for the church to be the church. There’s not a word in it about what the world wants. Nothing about how to engage politically, socially, culturally. It’s all about how to follow the Lord who is the head of the church, how to be consumed with Christ. That’s why the epistle begins essentially in verse 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

Everything is in Christ, everything. It’s all about our relationship to Christ. It’s all about knowing Him, loving Him, adoring Him, declaring Him, and becoming like Him. That’s what the church needs to be. The more it’s like the world, the more it forfeits its influence. The more it tampers with the world, the more divisive it becomes, the more cantankerous it becomes, the more fractured it becomes, the more exposed its weakness becomes. It is a deadly danger for the church, any church anywhere, to be anything other than what the Lord of the church has designed the church to be. And we have all the information in the revelation of the New Testament.

So as we look at the book of Ephesians, we’re going to notice that in the first three chapters the emphasis is on doctrine—that is what we believe. And the last three chapters is the practical section—how we behave. And how we behave is predicated by what we believe.

The memorable line in the film Field of Dreams was ‘Build it and they will come’.

John MacArthur’s Grace Church in southern California has been predicated on Scripture since its founding in the late 1960s. He never used gimmicks or church growth strategies. He didn’t have to. Because he, his other pastors and elders focus on the Bible and on doctrine, the pews are filled for every service. They also have a thriving Spanish-speaking ministry. Thousands of people attend Grace Church every week.

Beyond that, MacArthur also has the Master’s Seminary. Its graduates go on to plant churches around the world.

He says:

Paul’s prayer is that the church would focus on fully understanding what is theirs in Christ. Every faithful pastor should be leading His church into the deep knowledge of Christ. Every faithful pastor must live in the constant expression of a desire to see the church filled with the wisdom and knowledge that comes with a deep revelation of Christ. This is the church being the church, being Christ-centered. Certainly this is my prayer for Grace Church.

God is answering that prayer, most assuredly.

Divine judgement?

Now we come to Romans 1. I placed it at the top, however, so that we could read it whilst contemplating what has happened to the Church and our world over the past six decades.

MacArthur believes that we are living out Romans 1 and that God has left the Western world to its own devices:

If there would ever be a nation of people who held the truth it would be certainly our nation, as well as most of the Western world. We have had the Bible. We’ve had the revelation of God. We all are very much aware that that has been rejected in our nation wholesale; and as a result of that, the wrath of God has been revealed. It is revealed against any society, any culture, any people, who hold the truth in unrighteousness, who turn from God; and that’s exactly what our society has done. And Romans chapter 1 defines the wrath of God. It says this is what it is. God, when He judges a society for rejecting Him, turns them over to a sexual revolution. It’s explicit. We have had that, 30 years ago I suppose, the sexual revolution; that was the first sign of divine judgment. He lets men go into sexual unrighteousness, pornography—really the death of any sense of biblical morality.

The final step is God’s giving people a ‘reprobate mind’:

Reprobate mind is a nonfunctioning mind; and what that means is the final step in divine judgment is a kind of insanity, where nothing makes sense. And out of that, Paul in Romans chapter 1 lists a long list of every imaginable kind of wickedness and sin, that will literally flood and drown a society. In the middle of that list, of course, is deceit and the hatred of God.

So there’s a reason why this country is in the insanity that it is in, and it is the judgment of God. God has allowed this nation that has rejected Him to go down the path of Romans 1 … to the point where there is an insanity that really makes no sense to any thinking person. It’s a reprobate mind, it’s a mind that does not function. And out of that mind that doesn’t function comes every imaginable kind of evil.

It was John Calvin who made the interesting statement that when God judges a people He gives them wicked rulers. When God judges a people He gives them wicked rulers. So this judgment of God, that has sent us down this careening path of transgression, iniquity, and sin, is also aided and abetted by wicked rulers because they tend to be the architects of all of this—if not overtly, certainly covertly.

Mankind cannot ‘fix’ what God has divinely ordained:

So I just want to say that you have to look at this in the light of divine judgment. What is happening in our country—the chaos, the insanity, the nonsense, the things that you can’t figure out, the confusion, the disorder, the disruption—is all part of divine judgment. And if you understand it that way you’re going to realize that you can’t fix it, you can’t fix it. The next election will not fix it. No election will fix it. A new governor in California will not fix it. It cannot be fixed; it is divine judgment, and it is obviously unleashed on us, and we’re in the final stage, the stage of insanity.

The folly of all follies in a situation like this is to think there’s anything you can do in the human realm to stop the divine judgment of God. That’s not possible. This is God judging, and He laid it out in detail. We are under judgment at a severe level, the most severe level revealed in Scripture, short of final, global judgment yet to come in the end of the age, and eternal judgment in hell. What is wrong in this country is not fixable; this is God bringing judgment.

However, MacArthur says that God will protect His faithful people:

The good news is that He protects His people in the judgment, that His cover is over us. We are in the shelter of His protection. We are saved from the wrath to come, and we are protected in the current judgment.

MacArthur says that we must have convictions — hills to die on — as we live through this era:

I was at camp this week with a thousand teenagers over in New Mexico, and the seniors from Grace Church got together and wanted to have a question and answer session. It was wonderful; I love doing it. And perhaps the most telling question came from—these are high school seniors—they said, “What do we need to know, facing university, facing college, going forward? What protections should we have?” And I said, “You need two things, two things, without which you will be a victim of the world. Number one: You need conviction. You need conviction. You have to have some non-negotiables, you have to have some hills you die on. And you have to know why, and you have to be able to substantiate those in the Word of God and in your own conscience. Without convictions you are a cork in the surf; you’ll end up wherever they take you. You need convictions.” And what a blessing to have been, for most of them, brought up in the influences of Grace Community Church where they have those convictions from those who surround them here; and for many of them, their own families. You have to have convictions.

Your convictions are the immovable pillars of your character. They’re the structure. Because what they’re going to want to do in the university is crush those convictions because they’re biblical convictions, and they’re true. And the world is ungodly, and the world is run by Satan, who’s a liar. They’re going to attack you with lies, and they’re going to attack your convictions about God, about man, about sin, about righteousness, about conduct, about morality, about everything. You have to have convictions.

The second thing you have to have is critical thinking, critical thinking. And I think for this particular period of history, this is what is most under attack. And let me tell you how to look at that.

Universities these days—certainly in the humanities side of things, universities these days are concerned about ideologies. You hear a lot about that, an ideology. What do they mean by an ideology? It’s just another word for a philosophy. But ideologies in the current climate are seductive and attractive to people because they are mindless, they are mindless.

Here’s how an ideology works: “What’s wrong in America? White privilege. What’s wrong in America? Systemic racism. What’s wrong in America? Abuse of women.” They want you to buy into the fact that everything that’s wrong in America can be explained by an ideology. They don’t want you to think critically about it.

“What’s wrong in America? Some people have money, and others don’t. What’s wrong in America? Corporations are getting rich, and people are being abused. What’s wrong in America?” They can be reduced to an ideology, a simple, single idea. This is stupidity. And universities are really bent on teaching people to be stupid. This is infantile. You can’t say, “What’s wrong in America? Systemic racism,” no matter what it is; if the bus doesn’t show up on your corner on time, “Well it’s systemic racism.” If you have mold on your bread, “Well it’s systemic racism.” That’s the stupidity of that oversimplification of everything—that is easy for people to suck up and be seduced by it because it’s a one-size-fits-all answer to everything, and you can put your brain in a bag and bury it. You have to think critically. You have to understand.

Then MacArthur describes the pandemic and post-pandemic period. What an amazing analysis:

For example, I’ll give you an illustration. In the United States 99.9 percent of the population survives COVID; that’s a fact. You can’t mesh that up with the behavior they’re requiring. How about this one: “Get vaccinated.” And you’re saying to yourself, “Well let’s see, they lied about Russia. The FBI lies. CIA lies. The National Health Organization lies. The World Health Organization lies. The CDC lies. The director of all of this lies, because he says something different every time he opens his mouth. The politicians lie. They lied about an incident in Chicago. They’re just lies and lies and lies and lies and lies.” And then they say to you, “Be vaccinated; it’s good for you.” I know why people aren’t getting vaccinated—because people don’t believe they’re being told the truth. It’s simple. It’s just the old Aesop’s fable about the boy who cried, “Wolf, wolf, wolf, wolf,” there never was a wolf. And when there was a wolf, nobody showed up.

You can’t keep lying and then expect people to believe you. You have to think critically and thoughtfully and carefully. You have to realize, CDC reports death rate from the normal flu last year was 99 percent lower. Oh, really. What happened to the flu? Where did it go? It went into the COVID statistic.

The chaos of deception and lies forces you, if you want to navigate the world in which you live, to think critically. Are there things wrong with capitalism? Capitalism can be abused, just like socialism is abused. Anything can be abused because sinners are engaged in it. Any kind of relationship, any kind of anything in human relationships is going to have good, bad, and indifferent. But what they want you to do is accept the—buy the package, and shut down alternative discussions. That’s why they cancel culture, because they want you to buy the ideology, they don’t want you to think critically. But we think critically because we think biblically, and we have the mind of Christ. First Corinthians 2:16, “You have the mind of Christ.”

I don’t want to get caught up in philosophy, which is another term for human wisdom. I don’t want to get caught up in empty deception. I don’t want to get caught up in something just passed down from person to person in tradition. And I certainly want to get above the stupid level of the ABCs. You can’t reduce me to some simplistic moron. Human wisdom is infantile compared to divine wisdom.

So look at verse 9, Colossians 2. Look, we don’t pay any attention to that, but we pay attention to Christ, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made” —what? —“complete.” Everything we need is in Christ. First Corinthians 2:16, “We have the mind of Christ.” We have the mind of Christ.

That’s what I told those high school students: convictions, critical thinking. Think like a Christian. Think like Christ. Think biblically. Don’t be kidnapped by lies.

MacArthur says that the Church has a vital role to play during divine judgement:

I just want you to understand that the church has one great responsibility in the midst of this judgment. It’s not to try to fix what’s wrong in society. That same chapter, Romans 1, gives us our mandate. Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel [of Christ], for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew and the Gentile.” Our responsibility is to preach the gospel—not to be ashamed of the gospel but to preach the gospel, which is the only answer. The only hope is Christ, and the only appropriate response to Christ is to embrace Him as Lord and Savior, and to embrace His glorious gospel.

I guess what I’m saying to you is don’t expect it to get better. But it raises the stakes for what we as believers in the world are called to do. And while so many churches, so many churches, ranging from the liberal churches to the even evangelical churches, are caught up in trying to fix what’s wrong in the world—everything is a result of judgment, even the racial hostility, the insanity of teaching people to hate and living on vengeance and revenge. All of these kinds of things are part and parcel of what happens to a culture when God lets them go. They go to an insanity where nothing makes sense. That’s where we are.

For us, we know the truth because we have the mind of Christ in the Word of God. And our responsibility is not somehow to figure out how to fix the world, but how to proclaim the gospel that can deliver people from the world, from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. The church needs to focus on the person of Christ; and sadly it’s all over the place on social issues, which cannot be fixed, first of all, because people are sinful. And what’s wrong in the world, in society, is a reflection of sin. And secondly, because that sin is compounded when God removes normal, divine restraint, and it becomes a judgment. So the judgment is that sinners get what they want, and it gets worse and worse and worse

You have to see those things for what they are. They’re not fixable; they’re a reflection of fallen sinfulness, a reflection of a nation that has abandoned God, and a reflection of divine judgment itself.

Ultimately, the Church must be a haven in times of judgement:

The church needs to become Christ-centered. For the church to reach the world, it has to stop trying to be like the world, because why would you want to identify with a society under judgment? Understand that what’s going wrong in our society is divine judgment. We have to be the church. We have to be the haven; we have to be the eye of the hurricane; we have to be the safe place. We have to be the place where Christ is exalted and the Word of God is proclaimed, truth is known and believed and lived and taught. We have the mind of Christ, and it’s in the pages of Scripture.

I will return to British politics in my next post. See if we are not under divine judgement, too, as our once great United Kingdom is in a state of collapse in so many ways. No matter what our politicians advocate and try, everything gets worse. It’s unfixable for the time being.

The Prayer Book Society was founded in 1972.

Its purpose is to make sure that the liturgy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) survives in the ever-modern Church of England, which began chipping away at it gradually until the appearance of the Alternative Service Book of the 1980s.

On October 4, 2022, Lord Moore — Charles Moore — the eminent author and past editor of The Telegraph and The Spectator, wrote an article for the former about the Society on its 50th anniversary.

Moore converted to Catholicism in the 1990s in opposition to women’s ordination.

However, he still has a fondness for the BCP and the Society’s work.

He provided a brief history of how the Society came into being, beginning with the first edition of the BCP in the 1500s, dating back to Archbishop Cranmer (emphases mine):

The Prayer Book Society is 50 years old this year. It came into being to protect the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) from the neglect and even hostility of the Church authorities. For roughly four centuries, Thomas Cranmer’s words, along with the Authorised Version of the Bible, provided the normative language of worship and religious education in England. The BCP therefore occupied the collective imagination of the English people. Then it was sidelined by modern versions – a tremendous loss to knowledge, beauty, literature and prayerfulness.

Moore tells us that he asked King Charles III — who was Prince of Wales at the time — to present the Thomas Cranmer prize to a worthy school child in 1989. The recipient had to:

best declaim a Prayer Book passage.

The then-Prince:

kindly and enthusiastically accepted.

Moore tells us:

In a speech of almost barnstorming eloquence, in St James Garlickhythe, the Prince declared that: “If English is spoken in Heaven (as the spread of English as a world language makes more likely each year), God undoubtedly employs Cranmer as his speech-writer. The angels of the lesser ministries probably use the language of the New English Bible and the Alternative Service Book for internal memos.”

He became the Society’s active Patron, and again presented the Thomas Cranmer Awards in 2019. Now that he has become King, all his existing patronages are being reviewed, but it would surely be entirely fitting for the new Supreme Governor of the Church of England to retain his commitment.

Currently:

More than 100 school pupils compete for the Cranmer Awards every year.

It is heartening to read that the BCP has support among younger laity and clergy:

Bradley Smith, the society’s current chairman, tells me that young people are the most numerous new recruits. This began in lockdown, which gave many of them their first chance to engage with the Prayer Book liturgy online. Among young clergy, support is particularly strong. At York Minster, BCP choral Matins is the cathedral’s fastest-growing service.

What excellent news!

Westminster Abbey was scheduled to hold a special service for the Society’s golden anniversary on Saturday, October 8. Unfortunately, a train strike has forced a postponement:

However, Mr Bradley assures me that the service will take place at a later date. As the Prayer Book puts it, there will be “a happy issue out of all our afflictions”.

Indeed.

May God continue to bless the Prayer Book Society and its work for many more decades to come.

For those living in or visiting London, the historic St James Garlickythe offers 1662 BCP services daily as well as on Sundays. It is located in the City of London. The nearest Tube station is Mansion House, and their website gives alternative routes by rail and bus.

The church has existed on its site since the 12th century and had to be rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Sir Christopher Wren designed the present church, known as ‘Wren’s Lantern’ for its many windows.

In the Middle Ages, garlic was sold in the vicinity, hence the name Garlickhythe.

The ongoing preoccupation and concern about how Anglican parishes will survive, especially in rural England, might be resolved soon.

On June 26, 2022, The Sunday Telegraph reported that wealthier parishes could be allowed to give more to poorer ones. The plan will be debated at the upcoming General Synod meeting in July (emphases mine):

Wealthy church dioceses will be allowed to share funds with their poorer neighbours under plans to be voted on by the Church of England.

The proposals, which have been submitted before the General Synod, the Church of England’s legislative body, will mean that for the first time cash can be more evenly distributed.

The move would remove some barriers to dioceses sharing resources and comes amid concern about the viability of smaller, poorer and more rural parishes.

Why did that not happen sooner? It’s common sense. In Paul’s epistles, we read of his collection for the poor church in Jerusalem. The other churches he planted in Asia Minor and Macedonia gave generously, and he succeeded in presenting the donation to the struggling congregation in Jerusalem.

It will be left to the dioceses to decide if they wish to participate. Hmm. Based on previous diocesan splurging of money on rather useless ‘initiatives’, I do hope they will be generous towards their poorer congregations:

In papers published last week and submitted to the Synod for its conference in July, David White, deputy director of finance for National Church Institutions, said that his amendment would “in effect, enable a Diocesan Board of Finance to grant funds from its income account for use by other dioceses in the Church of England if it wished to do so” …

In May the archbishops admitted that they “got it wrong” by not prioritising rural parishes over city churches, as they announced funding worth £3.6 billion.

We shall see.

On June 23, Andrew Selous MP, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, answered a question from Labour MP Ben Bradshaw on putting more clergy into neglected parishes. I agree with the Revd Giles Fraser of St Anne, Kew, that Selous’s response was far from reassuring:

Churches are struggling to obtain curates, as obtaining more clergy is not in their direct control:

The Save the Parish network will be meeting before the Synod members get together. I wish them all the very best. They have two champions in the Revds Giles Fraser and Marcus Walker, rector of St Bartholomew the Great in London:

Giles Fraser is enjoying his new assignment at the Parish Church of St Anne in southwest London:

He is out and about meeting fellow residents:

On a serious note, Fraser warns of the Lords Spiritual — serving Church of England bishops in the House of Lords — becoming irrelevant if the parish system breaks down:

In his recent article in UnHerd, he says:

the bishops draw their moral authority from the fact that the Church of England operates a universal service provision. We serve in all communities, from the richest to the poorest, from cities to rural areas. The bishops are in fact well suited to the Lords because they connect it to every parish in the country — well, in England at least. And if there is a current threat to bishops in the Lords it comes not from the fact that they sometimes irritate the government with moral pronouncements — ‘twas ever thus — but rather because the bishops are dismantling the source of their own authority. Armed with half-arsed MBAs, they want the Church to be run with increasingly centralised efficiency; inefficient parishes are being closed. As a result, the connection between the bishops and the parishes is being severed, and with it the source of their authority to sit in the legislature.

Fraser warns that this plays into secularists’ hands:

The role of the bishops is to represent the whole country spiritually. On the whole, other faiths are glad of this particular role held by the Church of England. The National Secular Society and other troublemakers are keen to sow division among people of faith in order to argue that no one church should have legislative priority over another. But this is simply a ruse to dislodge religion from the public sphere. The Church of England is not a special interest group, it exists for all. Even, heaven help us, for secularists.

On that note, the Revd Stephen Heard is concerned about the single-minded political leanings of C of E clergy, starting with the archbishops. Their constant political pronouncements could be alienating the laity — and potential converts:

He cites an article from The Critic, ‘The closing of the Episcopal mind’, which provides bishops’ opinions dating back to the 19th century, and concludes:

Given this deep uncertainty and debate as to the political implications of Christianity, total political consensus among its leadership makes me very uneasy. It alienates large swathes of lay Anglicans who, in perfectly good faith, come to conclusions that differ from the liberal-left consensus, and makes our mission as a broad national church harder. It belies a real lack of intellectual vibrancy and curiosity, and implies, by some curious happenstance, that the political spirit of a restless and secular age has magically aligned itself with the truths of the Christian religionWhat providential perfection! And what an unlikely state of affairs all round.

Political causes have even entered into baptismal and confirmation vows in the Diocese of Oxford, which now requires a promise to uphold God’s creation.

Marcus Walker rightly points out that this places Christ, the Person to whom we pledge our faithful allegiance, in second position:

He wrote an article about it for The Telegraph:

In it, he says:

Baptism and Confirmation are two of the most important steps a human being can make. I say this, I concede, as a clergyman, but what happens at these sacraments is not just a significant religious service, but an event that transforms a person’s life, temporal and eternal.

This is why it’s really important that the Church avoids putting barriers up that would discourage people from encountering this grace. It is difficult enough for the Church to persuade people that the Christian message is true (we’ve all seen the stats). Pushing away those who don’t hold to the ideologies of the current bench of bishops is foolish in the extreme.

This week, the Bishop of Oxford has decided to add to the service of Baptism and Confirmation a new little exchange: “Will you strive to sustain the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth?” “With the help of God, I will.” It is important to note that this is not a change to the actual baptismal vows. It’s part of a rather naff “commissioning” that the new prayer book, Common Worship, allows at the end of these services. Nobody knows what happens if a candidate says “no”, mostly because none of the other questions are controversial so this issue has not come up before.

At this point you might be saying, “but there’s nothing controversial here either”, and, if speaking entirely for myself, I would agree. You might also say that this seems pretty consonant with long-standing mainstream Christian and Anglican theology and this would be true.

But the question of how we engage with environmental concerns has become a major political issue recently, one controversial enough to have even caused long standing conservatives to reconsider their loyalty to the Crown in anger at the way some members of the Royal Family proselytise about “The Environment”.

This is the only part of the service which engages directly with a live political discourse. We are not asked to pledge anything to do with poverty, international relations, race, or even loyalty to the Supreme Governor of the Church of England …

Walker acknowledges that the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) requires confirmands to pledge loyalty to the monarch and says that it is no longer used in today’s confirmation ceremonies:

to use it now would turn away any republican. It would cause those who don’t think this country should have a monarch to have second thoughts about finding God. High Tory though I am, I would not want to stand before the Throne of Judgment and have held against me the souls I had turned away because of my politics.

Which means my advice to the Bishop of Oxford is not to mess with this liturgy; to those cheerleading the move to ask yourself what if the boot were on the other foot and you were being forced to assent to a political position you dissent from as a condition of baptism; to the Church to be grateful for anyone willing to commit themselves to Christ and to welcome them with open arms.

In closing, this guidance on sermon writing from 2017 is worthwhile reading. It could apply to any essay. Parts of it remind me of the Expository Writing course I took at university many moons ago.

This is called ‘Good to Great: Turning a Decent Sermon into a Wonderful One’:

It’s excellent advice — and difficult to achieve, therefore, all the more worthwhile in the pursuit of ‘good to great’.

As I was preparing yesterday’s post on what Anglican priests think of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, a lot more material came to the fore.

Trinity Sunday

As regular readers and churchgoers know, June 12, 2022 was Trinity Sunday.

At the Priory Church of St Bartholomew in London, it was also Confirmation Day for a blessed handful of the congregation.

The Revd Marcus Walker, St Bartholomew’s vicar, is on the right of the photo below. The Bishop of London, the Right Revd Sarah Mulally, is in the centre:

Did you ever wonder why mitres are shaped with a point?

Our vicar told us on Pentecost Sunday — the week before Trinity — that mitres are shaped that way to suggest the tongues of fire that descended on the heads of the faithful on the first Pentecost, signifying the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

It is a pity that the Bishop chose to preach on The Shack in her sermon. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear — no!

Not surprisingly, those preaching on Trinity Sunday dread it because it requires in some measure explaining the holy mystery of the Triune God. It is not unusual for a vicar to assign the sermon to an ordinand — trainee priest — who is a member of his congregation.

St Patrick used a shamrock. However, a Lutheran pastor in the United States uses an egg, which, in some ways, is even better. His sister, whom I cited in my post, wrote on another website (emphases mine below):

He set out 3 small bowls. He cracked an egg, separated the white from the yolk, placed them in 2 of the bowls, and the shell in the third. He then asked the children which was the egg (which of course brought out all kinds of interesting responses). He used this illustration to explain the Trinity. I think even the adults in the congregation were enlightened by his talk. The children certainly learned something that day.

Returning to St Bartholomew’s, Marcus Walker exchanges thoughts with a Catholic in the Twitter below:

Walker is absolutely right.

The Revd Matthew Cashmore is the vicar of St Anselm’s in Hayes, Middlesex, near Heathrow Airport. For centuries, it was a rural area. Now it is very much a part of Greater London. Its growth as an industrial suburb began in the mid-19th century with the arrival of the railway. In the 20th century, it was home to many industries, including player pianos, vinyl records, caravans, food manufacturing and aviation companies. Today, it is known for food, aviation and a number of Heathrow’s hotels.

St Mary the Virgin Church is the oldest house of worship in Hayes, dating back to the 13th century.

St Anselm’s was built in the 20th century but its name references the history of St Mary the Virgin, as Wikipedia explains:

St Anselm’s Church was completed in 1929 to the design of architect Hubert Christian Corlette. Noted designer MacDonald Gill was responsible for the panelled ceiling. The church’s foundation stone was laid on 13 May 1927 by Sir John Eldon Bankes. The east window is by James Powell and Sons of Whitefriars, London. The church was Grade II listed in November 2019.[58] St Anselm’s is so-named because William Rufus (1056 – 1100) sent Archbishop (later Saint) Anselm of Canterbury (c.1033 – 1109) to stay in the manor house of St Mary’s Church, as it was the nearest of the Archbishop’s manors to Windsor, where William Rufus resided.[59][60]

William Rufus was the third son of William the Conqueror.

On to the present day, and Matthew Cashmore, like many other vicars, preached on the mystery of the Trinity. This is an excerpt from St Anselm’s Trinity Sunday pew leaflet:

To try to figure out HOW this trinity of God works. We are human and modern humans attempt to understand the world through the lens of science and ‘reason’.

The issue of course is that creation is rather more complex and difficult than we can understand.

We are not God and we are reaching and trying as hard as we can to understand things that He created and put into place.

It’s just not possible.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t try – that we shouldn’t engage in trying to understand the the universe through science and ‘reason’; but rather to accept that there are things that we can not neatly fit into categories of science that are central to how we exist in the universe.

We are not God.

Sometimes we need to accept that it is wiser to exist and simply appreciate and give thanks for what God has made – and our part in it.

Wise words indeed.

Mission work

I found out about St Anselm’s via a tweet from a vicar whose tweets I posted yesterday.

The Revd Sarah Hancock, from Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, posted the church’s brilliant advert for a Mission Priest:

I can see why they have passed a Resolution. Going into rough pubs is probably not the sort of thing even today’s women priests are up for.

Mission work also appeared in Cashmore’s Trinity Sunday sermon, as he exhorted the congregation to think about ways in which they, too, can bring the Gospel to the unchurched. Excerpts follow:

In the name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Amen.

Today, as I’m sure you’re all aware is Trinity Sunday. It’s a day we call to mind the Holy Trinity and what that means to us today.

Trinity Sunday is an annual reminder of the simple command to live within the love and commandments of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and Jesus tells us how we discern how to do that …

… our faith is a felt faith. It is a faith that exists as much in our hearts and our stomachs as it does in our brains. The moment we forget that we lose the awesome breadth of what God has in store for us – we lose the ability to engage with what Jesus taught us – and we lose sight of what the Holy Spirit wants us to do in this life.

Now, I’m not saying we should leave our brains at the door when we come to church. What I am saying is that academic and intellectual exploration has to work alongside that gut feeling we all experience when we see the work of the Holy Spirit and that gentle warming of our heart we feel when we see the love of Jesus in action.

Our faith is a broad, complex and wonderful thing. It interacts with the world in a myriad of ways and people interact with us – and the faith they see in us – in a myriad of ways

We should be open to all those possibilities

The fact that somebody may want to talk to us about where the Trinity appears in scripture for example, is an opportunity to engage people about their faith. For us to crack open the Bible and talk them through the gospel of John and its rich description of the workings of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. (so I suggest you take your pew sheet home and read around these chapters!)

Or it may be that people want to know what the practical outworking of the Trinity in our day to day lives isor they may want to understand how our love of God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit makes us feel.

We need to be prepared to answer these questions in the real world

There are three things that I think any Christian should be ready to answer in the street.

    • How does God make you feel?
    • How does the Holy Spirit guide your daily life?
    • How has Jesus taught you to live a life more pleasing to God?

These questions form the heart of what we talk about in the world when we bring people to the love of Jesus – and in so doing – to the love of God and the Holy Spirit.

They are true because we experience them across the breadth of our lives and because we see them in scripture – the test of truth …

Our faith is an experienced faith.

It has to be lived out to be understood

When we talk to people about GodWe engage them with the truth of what we have seen, what we have learnt, what we have experienced in our day-to-day life with Jesus.

And we should be more prepared for it.

We should, each morning as we cross ourselves and say the Our Father – think with our brains, feel with our stomach, experience the joy of love in our heart, and ask ourselves – how can I go into the world today and bring somebody to Jesus.

How can we bring people to this church, this place and bring them to baptism – to a relationship that is earth shatteringly life changing with God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit?

It is up to each one of us to figure that out. Each one of us will bring a different gift, each one of us will bring different experiences and feelings, each one of us will have engaged with scripture in different ways and each one of us will reach somebody that another person cannot.

Nobody is beyond the love of God the Father, Son & Holy Sprit.

So, go out into the world my brothers and sisters and bring people to baptism, to this place, to a relationship with the Holy Trinity – because the only way to understand the Trinityis to live inside its love.

Amen.

St Anselm’s is a High Anglican church, therefore, it adopts some Catholic practices and pre-Vatican II vestments, such as this fiddleback chasuble in gold and blue:

I wish Fr Matthew all the best with his parish work and finding a Mission Priest.

Those interested in reading or watching more of his sermons can find them here.

I can also recommend the one for Pentecost Sunday, another inspiring call to mission:

Another vicar, the Revd Sam Charles Norton, is also concerned about spreading the Good News in the Church of England. He begins by going back to basics, with the Bible, writings of the early Church Fathers as well as Anglican clergy who helped to develop the Church of England in the 16th and 17th centuries when it was theologically at its best:

He says we have replaced doctrine with culture:

People should visit our churches if only for their beauty, as close to a glimpse of heaven as we have in this life:

Who knows where a church visit might lead?

Trivia

In closing, new members were installed into the Order of the Garter on Monday, June 13. This ceremony takes place every June.

This year, the Bishop of Worcester’s brother was one of the newest members of this ancient Royal order. Tony Blair, unfortunately, was, too.

However, the interesting thing is that both the Bishop of Worcester — the Right Revd John Inge — and his brother, who is a Field Marshal, are the sons of butchers. Let no one say that modest parentage prohibits great achievements:

The Bishop is the Lord High Almoner, in charge of distributing alms to the poor. The office dates from 1103 and is a post in the Royal Households of the United Kingdom.

The last Lord High Almoner who was the son of a butcher was Cardinal Wolsey (1473-1530):

How marvellous to be parents of sons who went into the military and the Church!

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Ephesians 1:1-2

Greeting

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful[a] in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

————————————————————————————–

Today’s post begins a brief exploration of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

It will be brief, because most of its six chapters are in the Lectionary. As such, I will include the content of the chapters in each post, because it is such a beautiful letter about the Church.

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that this letter is a handbook for the Church. Also, Paul was divinely inspired to reveal certain mysteries about the Gospel and God’s plan for the Church.

Furthermore, both commentators say that whether Paul actually addressed the book specifically to the Ephesians is in question. Some early commentaries omitted mentioning the church in Ephesus and had a blank space instead, suggesting it could have also been sent elsewhere. It could be argued that this letter was intended to apply to all the churches in Asia Minor.

Henry‘s commentary tells us how it was seen to be attached to Ephesus (emphases mine):

SOME think that this epistle to the Ephesians was a circular letter sent to several churches, and that the copy directed to the Ephesians happened to be taken into the canon, and so it came to bear that particular inscription. And they have been induced the rather to think this because it is the only one of all Paul’s epistles that has nothing in it peculiarly adapted to the state or case of that particular church; but it has much of common concernment to all Christians, and especially to all who, having been Gentiles in times past, were converted to Christianity. But then it may be observed, on the other hand, that the epistle is expressly inscribed (Ephesians 1:1) to the saints which are at Ephesus; and in the close of it he tells them that he had sent Tychicus unto them, whom, in 2 Timothy 4:12, he says he had sent to Ephesus.

Paul wrote Ephesians from prison:

It is an epistle that bears date out of a prison: and some have observed that what this apostle wrote when he was a prisoner had the greatest relish and savour in it of the things of God. When his tribulations did abound, his consolations and experiences did much more abound, whence we may observe that the afflictive exercises of God’s people, and particularly of his ministers, often tend to the advantage of others as well as to their own.

In addition to revealing mysteries of the Gospel and laying out a pattern for the Church, it is also theologically rich:

The apostle’s design is to settle and establish the Ephesians in the truth, and further to acquaint them with the mystery of the gospel, in order to it. In the former part he represents the great privilege of the Ephesians, who, having been in time past idolatrous heathens, were now converted to Christianity and received into covenant with God, which he illustrates from a view of their deplorable state before their conversion, Ephesians 1:1-3; Ephesians 1:1-3. In the latter part (which we have in the Ephesians 4:1-6) he instructs them in the principal duties of religion, both personal and relative, and exhorts and quickens them to the faithful discharge of them. Zanchy [Italian Reformer Girolamo Zanchi, 1516-1590] observes that we have here an epitome of the whole Christian doctrine, and of almost all the chief heads of divinity.

In 1978, John MacArthur said that he used Ephesians as a guide to modelling the principles of his own Grace Community Church, founded in 1969:

All that I had ever dreamed a church could be came to crystallization in my mind as I studied Ephesians. It formed, for me, the whole pattern of the church: what it is, how it operates, everything just came together in the study of Ephesians.

The result of that study was I wrote a book entitled The Church, the Body of Christ. Those months that we spent studying Ephesians eight years ago – seven or eight years ago – were the months that formed the character of Grace Church in terms of its present dimensions of ministry.

Grace Community Church is a church built on the principles of the book of Ephesians. In those days, I suppose we maybe had 400 or 500 people who studied with us all the way through the book. And now, at this point, we’ve got 5,000 people, and so the elders felt there were a whole lot of folks who ought to know what Grace Church is built on. And so, we’re going to study the book of Ephesians together.

I’m so excited about this because it’s a book that I absolutely love. I’ve taught it many, many times in other situations, and the riches of this book are unlimited. Really, more than any other book in the Bible, I feel this book was the catalyst that launched Grace Church. And, people, if you’re a part of Grace Church, you are a part of something that is indeed unusual, a church that has gone from 500 to 5,000 people in 9 years, a church where so many ministries have developed. It’s just really an incredible thing, and it isn’t due to one individual; it’s due to the will of God, but it’s due also to an understanding of the principles of the book of Ephesians, a very vital book.

When I think about how God has expanded this ministry, it just boggles my mind. We were talking the other day that the receipts, over the last two weeks, that have been given to Grace Church by you, God’s people, for the ministry here are more than the entire year’s giving of 1969. It’s incredible what God has done.

He describes the book in more detail:

If you get a handle on the book of Ephesians, you – some people have called it the bank of the believer. This is your spiritual checkbook, and every time you write a check out of this bank, your funds are non-diminished. In other words, you can write checks on all the riches of God as often as you want, for as much as you want and never diminish the account. Isn’t that nice? That’s the book of Ephesians. It’s a book about riches. It’s a book about fullnesses. It’s a book about being filled with things. It’s a book about inheritance. It’s a book that just tells us what we own in Christ. Some have called it the treasure house of the Bible

You can draw out all you want, all the time, and never diminish your account. But you don’t know that unless you understand the principles in the book of Ephesians.

So, you want to get the book of Ephesians and get it down good. It’ll absolutely revolutionize your lifeIt will teach you who you are, how rich you are, and how you are to use those riches for God’s glory

God is unloading all of His riches in the book of Ephesians. The word “grace” is used 12 times, and the word “grace” means God’s unmerited, undeserved kindness and favor. Grace is behind all of this lavishness that God pours out. So, the word “grace” is used 12 times. The word “glory” is used eight times. The word “inheritance” is used four times. The word “riches” is used five times. The words “fullness” and “filled” are used seven times. And the key to everything is because we are in Christ that all the fullness of the riches of the inheritance of the glory of His grace is ours. Do you see?

Because we are one with Christ in His Church, because we are redeemed, this incredible fullness is ours. Maybe the sum of it all is in chapter 3, “That you might be filled with all the fullness of God.” It’s just an incredible thought. That literally the believer can be filled with all the fullness of God Himself; that we would know the unsearchable riches of Christ; that we would be able to do exceeding abundantly above all we could ask or think according to the power that works in us.

You see, it’s all such magnanimous, grandiose concepts: fullness, riches, inheritance, wealth, resources – all in the book of Ephesians. There are enough resources in heaven to cover all past debts, present liabilities, and future needs and still not diminish your account. That’s God’s plan

So, the guarantee for the believer in all of this is where it says it’s in Christ. And as secure as Christ is in the plan of God and in the love of the father, and as available as the resources of God are to Christ, so available are they to you. See? Because in our union with Christ, we become, according to Romans 8, joint – what? – heirs. And as Hebrews says, “He is not ashamed to call us brother.” And, “He that is joined to the spirit” – 1 Corinthians 6:17 – or “joined to the Lord,” rather – “is one spirit,” so that we have what He has. We possess what He possesses; all His riches are at our disposal.

Peter calls it an inheritance that’s laid away incorruptible and undefiled, reserved in heaven for us. That’s Ephesians. Now, it’s all in Christ. It’s all because we’re in Christ. And if you’re not in Christ, you’re poor; you’re destitute; you’re a pauper; you’re a beggar. If you’re in Christ, you’re rich beyond all wild imagination. It’s all based on Him. It’s not anything we did; it’s not anything we earned. It’s all His.

So, this is your bankbook. This is the treasure house. This is where you check out your resources. And in the first – now watch it – in the first three chapters, he tells you what they are, and in the last three, he tells you how to use them. You’ve got to get it all. You’ve got to stay with us for the whole thing. You can’t spend them if you don’t know what they are; and if you know what they are, you got to know how to spend them.

So, the first three chapters, the theology of the rich believer; the practice in chapters 4 to 6. And there are other things that are involved, but that’s just the main thing. Now, let me go a step further and turn the corner a little bit in your thinking. Just kind of file that category of riches related to Ephesians, and I want to talk about another dimension. It not only talks about our riches, but it talks about the whole idea that all this is ours because we’re in the Church. Okay? It’s all ours because we’re in the Church …

Now, the book, then, discusses the Church. It discusses what the Church is, how the Church functions, how we function in the Church, and it discusses the riches of the Church

The book of Ephesians presents the mystery of the Church. The mystery of the Church … it’s been revealed to Paul.

And what was it? That the Gentiles are fellow heirs of the same body, partakers of the promise in Christ by the Gospel. In other words, the hidden secret of the past was revealed to Paul. And what was it? It was that the Gentile and the Jew would be in one body in the Church. Now, stay with that; we’re going to expand it a little bit.

Let’s talk about how God reveals things. This will help you to understand this. There are three ways, basically, that I want to mention to you. Number one, there are some things God never tells anybody. Okay? God has some secrets that He never reveals to anybody any time. These are secrets. You just don’t know them; I don’t know them; nobody knows them. God doesn’t reveal them. Deuteronomy 29:29 tells about these things. It says this, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but the things which are revealed belong unto us and our children forever”

Second category. God has some secrets that He reveals to special people all through history

In Psalm 25:14, it says this, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant.” Proverbs 3:32 says, “His secret is with the righteous.” Amos 3:7, “He reveals His secrets unto His servants.” So, the righteous, the servants, the people of God, those that fear Him, they know His truth. Now, who are they? Believers. You and me. The fact of the matter is there are some things that nobody knows. The second part is there are some things that only believers know. We know things the unsaved don’t know. Right? …

There’s a third category I want you to get. There are some things which God keeps secret from everybody, for a period of time, and finally reveals to His special people in the New Testament. All right? Now don’t get lost. Point one, God keeps some secrets permanently. Point two, He reveals some things to all His people through all history. Point three, He keeps some secrets through history until the New Testament and reveals them only to the New Testament people.

Do you know we know things that the Old Testament saints didn’t know? That’s right. The New Testament wasn’t written yet. The New Testament is new truth for a new age, sacred secrets revealed by God. In fact, the Old Testament saints used to look to try to see what things meant. Read it in Peter’s epistle. He says they were searching what this thing was they were writing. Do you know that the angels long to understand some of the things that we know such as the meaning of salvation? There are some things that God has kept secret through all history and finally just revealed in the New Testament. Now, these are the mysteries. These are the mustērion, the Greek word

Now, by the way, the man who was given, for the most part, the job of revealing the mysteries was Paul the apostle. He was the mystery man. He was the one to whom God revealed the sacred secrets that had been hidden from the Old Testament saints.

So, these are the mysteries. So, when you see the word “mystery” in chapter 3, verse 3, it simply means a spiritual truth never before revealed but now revealed in the New Testament. New truth for a new age …

So, when Jesus talked, He talked in a way, when He was on earth, that His people would understand it, and the unbelieving would not, and He talked in parables. Right? So, they said to Him … “Why do you speak in parables?” And He said, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” Again, the mysteries are something hidden that God reveals to His special people in the New Testament age …

Where does He reign now? In the heart of the believer. He is enthroned. In the kingdom, will there be peace? Yes. In the heart of the believer, is there peace that passes understanding? Yes. In the kingdom, Christ will dispense salvation. He has dispensed it in our lives now. In the kingdom there will be joy and happiness and blessing, and things will flourish, and so do they in the life of an obedient believer now. You see?

At this point, it is worth noting that yesterday’s Gospel reading — for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year C) — pertains to this, particularly these verses from John 14, when Jesus was giving His final discourse to the Apostles after the Last Supper:

14:23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Let us now move on to Ephesians 1, keeping those verses in mind. This is serendipitous.

Paul calls himself an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God and greets the congregation as saints who are faithful in Him (verse 1).

Henry has a splendid analysis of the verse:

Here is, 1. The title St. Paul takes to himself, as belonging to him–Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, c. He reckoned it a great honour to be employed by Christ, as one of his messengers to the sons of men. The apostles were prime officers in the Christian church, being extraordinary ministers appointed for a time only. They were furnished by their great Lord with extraordinary gifts and the immediate assistance of the Spirit, that they might be fitted for publishing and spreading the gospel and for governing the church in its infant state. Such a one Paul was, and that not by the will of man conferring that office upon him, nor by his own intrusion into it but by the will of God, very expressly and plainly intimated to him, he being immediately called (as the other apostles were) by Christ himself to the work. Every faithful minister of Christ (though his call and office are not of so extraordinary a nature) may, with our apostle, reflect on it as an honour and comfort to himself that he is what he is by the will of God. 2. The persons to whom this epistle is sent: To the saints who are at Ephesus, that is, to the Christians who were members of the church at Ephesus, the metropolis of Asia. He calls them saints, for such they were in profession, such they were bound to be in truth and reality, and many of them were such. All Christians must be saints; and, if they come not under that character on earth, they will never be saints in glory. He calls them the faithful in Christ Jesus, believers in him, and firm and constant in their adherence to him and to his truths and ways.

As ever, Paul stamps his apostolic authority on his work. MacArthur explains why he did so:

… this is the single credential that he lays out: “an apostle of Christ Jesus.” Even though he stood outside the twelve—he was maybe overshadowed by them in some sense—he wants us to understand that he is a legitimate apostle. He does this with no vanity, no self-glory. In fact, he says, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” He says, “We have received grace and apostleship,” Romans 1:5.

But what do we know about his apostolic calling? When he called himself an apostle, four things were in view; let’s look at them just briefly. First, his apostolic call. That is to say, it had to be directly from the Lord. An apostle was one called directly by the Lord Himself—as he was, on the Damascus Road. Only fourteen men were ever given this call: the twelve; Judas is out, Mathias is in, that makes the thirteenth; and Paul is the fourteenth. He had a divine calling. His life was interrupted on the Damascus Road; certainly the most dramatic calling of any apostle by Christ Himself—even the risen, exalted, ascended Christ.

The second thing that characterizes an apostle is that the notion of his identity is wrapped up in the One he represents. He belonged to Christ. He frequently refers to himself as a slave of Christ. This life was not his own; he was the possession of Christ, bought and paid for on the cross, so that he would say, “For me, to live is Christ.”

Now apostle means “sent one.” So here is one who has received a unique call personally from Christ, who belongs to Christ as a slave, for the sole purpose of fulfilling, thirdly, a commission. Apostolos means a sent one. His commission, in particular, was to the Gentiles.

The fourth element of it simply is to understand that he had power. An apostle is given delegated authority; he can speak for the one he represents. Even in the Jewish setting, the Sanhedrin was a supreme court of the Jews; and in matters of religion, they had authority over every Jew in the world. And when the Sanhedrin came to a decision about anything, and that decision as given then to the public, it was carried out by a messenger called an apostolos and taken to those who needed to hear it. When such an apostle of the Sanhedrin went out, he didn’t go with his own message or his own authority—behind him was the authority of the supreme court of Israel.

So it was with Paul. He had authority granted to him by Christ. That authority was validated by signs and wonders and miraculous things, as God validated him as a true apostle by supernatural signs. Not only is he an apostle, but he is “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” This is double authority, from the Father and the Son. God sovereignly directed the work, specially equipped the apostle called the apostle, as did Christ Himself.

Again, although many translations mention the congregation at Ephesus, that was not the case in the earliest manuscripts:

“At Ephesus”—though this letter is directed to the Ephesians, and I think that’s legitimately to whom Paul wrote it, there are no personal aspects in this letter. There are no references to local people or local events or local issues in this church. And in some ancient manuscripts there’s a blank where it says, “who are at Ephesus”—“who are at blank.” Where did such manuscripts come from, and why did that occur? We can’t be certain, but many scholars believe that this was such a general letter that it was circulated to all the churches, not only in Ephesus and close by, but all through Asia Minor—the seven churches that are listed in the book of Revelation chapters 2 and 3. In Colossians, in fact, Paul refers to a letter from Laodicea. Some feel this might be that letter; we can’t know that. But nonetheless, in some ancient manuscripts there’s a blank there so that any church could fill its own name in, and it would be appropriate to them.

MacArthur gives us more information about Paul’s imprisonment, which Henry dates as AD 61, and the other letters that he wrote during that time:

It’s written from Rome. Paul is a prisoner during his third missionary tour. It’s carried by Tychicus and Onesimus, along with Colossians and Philemon, to the churches and to Philemon.

MacArthur says that calling the congregation saints refers not only to their justification by faith through grace but also sanctification on their Christian journey:

to show you that, 1 Corinthians chapter 1. And you might say of all the people who didn’t act saintly, the Corinthians probably headed the list. But listen to how he begins 1 Corinthians: “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth”—that’s the whole church at Corinth—“to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling.” If you’re a saint, you’re not only justified, you’re in the process of being sanctified. And the Corinthians seem like some of the least sanctified saints—and yet that is how Paul describes them

There are plenty of scriptures that indicate there’s no such thing as justification without sanctification. One more comes to mind. Acts 26:18, Paul says his commission is to the Gentiles, to whom the Lord is sending him—verse 18, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God”—that’s conversion, and—“ that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” When you put your faith in Christ, you’re not only justified, you’re sanctified; not perfectly sanctified, but you’re on the path of sanctification.

So that, if you are a saint, you also can be designated faithful. That’s why those go together: “to the saints who are faithful.” What does that mean? Pistos, who are believers, who believe in Christ Jesus.

There [was] a movement years ago that I basically took on in The Gospel According to Jesus that said you could be a Christian and completely lose your faith, be an unbelieving believer. Not possible. True believers are justified and sanctified. They are saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus.

So Paul is writing this letter to those saints and faithful believers.

Paul wishes the Ephesians grace and peace from God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (verse 2).

Henry explains:

The apostolical benediction: Grace be to you, c. This is the token in every epistle and it expresses the apostle’s good-will to his friends, and a real desire of their welfare. By grace we are to understand the free and undeserved love and favour of God, and those graces of the Spirit which proceed from it; by peace all other blessings, spiritual and temporal, the fruits and product of the former. No peace without grace. No peace, nor grace, but from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. These peculiar blessings proceed from God, not as a Creator, but as a Father by special relation: and they come from our Lord Jesus Christ, who, having purchased them for his people, has a right to bestow them upon them. Indeed the saints, and the faithful in Christ Jesus, had already received grace and peace; but the increase of these is very desirable, and the best saints stand in need of fresh supplies of the graces of the Spirit, and cannot but desire to improve and grow: and therefore they should pray, each one for himself and all for one another, that such blessings may still abound unto them.

MacArthur focuses on divine grace and divine peace:

First, grace—charis, the kindness of God toward undeserving sinners. Peace, eirēnē. Peace means peace with God, the peace of God, peace with each other. Those are the first blessings: grace and peace. Grace is the fountain; peace is the stream that flows from that fountain.

MacArthur summarises the next set of verses:

In verses 3 through 14, Paul gives one long sentence listing all the spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ: election, sanctification, foreordination, adoption, acceptance, redemption, forgiveness, enrichment, enlightenment, inheritance, sealing, promise, on and on and on. Everything that is ours is laid out in that opening chapter. And, of course, from there you go through the whole treasure house of God’s provision for His people: the treasures of grace, the treasures of glory, the treasures of Christ. In this chapter, running down through verse 14, you will see the work of the Father, you will see the work of the Son, and you’ll see the work of the Spirit. And all of it has one purpose: verse 6, “to the praise of the glory of His grace”; verse 12, “to the praise of His glory”; verse 14, “to the praise of His glory.”

Everything that happens in the life of the church is to the praise of His glory. It is all for His glory—and particularly, the praise of the glory of His grace, praise of the glory of His grace, as we saw in verse 6.

Henry tells us to look at the rest of the chapter as a combination of praises and prayers:

… though it may seem somewhat peculiar in a letter, yet the Spirit of God saw fit that his discourse of divine things in this chapter should be cast into prayers and praises, which, as they are solemn addresses to God, so they convey weighty instructions to others. Prayer may preach; and praise may do so too.

Here is the rest of the chapter:

Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us[b] for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known[c] to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee[d] of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,[e] to the praise of his glory.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[f] toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Next week, I will look at Ephesians 2 and the first part of Ephesians 3.

Next time — Ephesians 3:13

On May 15, 2022, the Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year C) was from John 13, wherein Jesus gave the Apostles a new commandment at the Last Supper:

13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

When I returned home from my local Anglican church that day, I read about two rather sad situations in the Church of England involving senior clergy.

The way the bishops handled these situations made me wonder how Christlike they are.

Loving each other the way Christ loves us demands a lot of concessions on our part, the very same that He showed towards His disciples, making allowances for human misunderstanding and weakness. Above all, He forgave those faults time and time again, with loving patience.

The Save the Parish network has been doing much heavy lifting in trying to get bishops to become more responsive to and respectful of parish churches across the country.

What follows are two examples of their efforts.

Cornwall

A conflict has been growing between Anglicans in Cornwall and their bishop, the Right Revd Philip Mounstephen, over the axeing of clergy, meaning the potential closure of historical churches in that beautiful county.

The Diocese of Truro prefers to spend money on administrative positions, as the following Save the Parish letter to the bishop makes clear:

The bishop sent back a terse reply, saying that, as the group had gone to the press with the story, he would not be meeting with them, as they had requested:

Given that you have taken this route I’m afraid I will not be offering you a meeting.

Rather, I encourage you to engage seriously in the On the Way process in your local community.

If you have continuing concerns these should best be raised in your PCC and by the normal synodical processes by which we work.

That sounds so petty and so corporate. Would our Lord have responded in such a cold and unforgiving way? Certainly not.

A Catholic chimed in to say that the same thing is going on in the Diocese of Plymouth. Very sad:

The Catholic Diocese of Plymouth is in serious decline and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that my Bishop (and the entire episcopate of England & Wales) and your Bishop are sharing & comparing notes on this planned ‘reconfiguration’. Very best wishes to you in this.

Other Anglicans were also unhappy with the direction the C of E has taken over the past few years:

I agree with the next tweets that say the rot started around 30 years ago:

Without churches, how will the faithful gather together to worship? Please don’t say via a Zoom call with self-consecrated sandwich bread and a glass of whatever juice or wine one has to hand. We are not Evangelicals.

Where is the Great Commission (Matthew 28) in this plan?

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Budget

Earlier this month, on May 11, the C of E issued its triennial budget, channelling £3.6 billion into parishes and social action.

Some people, like the Revd Giles Fraser, were happy but others wondered how much money would actually be going to parishes. Pictured is the Archbishop of Canterbury:

The Revd Marcus Walker of St Bartholomew in London, who chairs the Save The Parish network, was guardedly optimistic about the budget and its allocation to individual churches:

Interestingly, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will not deliver the budget to the General Synod until July — with no vote.

Why wasn’t it presented to them upon release?

Someone noted the irony and hypocrisy of the Archbishops going to the press to announce the budget. Hmm:

On May 12, the Archbishop of Canterbury announced that the hierarchy ‘got it wrong’ in ignoring parish churches, especially those in the countryside:

If it hadn’t been for Save The Parish, would the hierarchy have admitted their mistake?

Would Jesus have ignored the humble faithful? No, certainly not. The people the disciples tried to shoo away, Jesus invited to approach Him. He never turned His back on anyone.

The Guardian‘s account of the budget emphasised its social action aspects (emphases mine):

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, admitted the C of E had been heavy-handed in concentrating funds on urban churches in recent years. “Allocating money in the past was perhaps, if we’re honest, a bit too driven from the centre. Now we’re trusting the dioceses much more,” said Cottrell.

Rural parishes have complained that they have been starved of cash, which has been diverted to inner-city churches. As a result, churches have closed and clergy jobs have been lost, according to a campaign group, Save the Parish.

Welby said: “Over the last few years, the priority has been very much for the more heavily populated areas. Having listened carefully to what people were saying, this [funding] is for everyone, including the rural areas.”

The core of the extra funding will be used for programmes that focus on young and disadvantaged people, deliver social action work, address racism and cut the church’s carbon footprint.

It will support churches in the poorest areas of the country and fund more clergy in frontline ministries, including chaplaincies. “This funding will help the C of E raise its game in its service to the nation,” said Cottrell.

The Telegraph‘s article focused more on individual parish churches, the ones that Save The Parish is concerned about:

The Church of England’s Archbishops have admitted that they “got it wrong” by not prioritising rural parishes over city churches, as they announced new funding worth £3.6 billion …

In an online press conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of York, the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, announced the plans and reiterated their commitment to rural church communities, saying that rural parishes “really matter” …

Furthermore, in December, figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that the number of Christians in England is close to falling below 50 per cent for the first time, as atheists now account for more than a third of “faith” groups in an increasingly secular society.

Do we think the bishops and two archbishops care about that statistic? They should, given that they, too, must follow the Great Commission. It wasn’t meant only for the Apostles.

The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell said:

I don’t think we don’t need to be embarrassed by saying we’ve learned, we’ve listened. We’ve changed our mind. It’s not that what was done in the past was bad and this is now good. It’s: that was good and we think this is better.

The money which was distributed in this kind of way in recent years, was much more focused on populous areas. And of course populous areas, they really matter. But so do rural areas, and there’s a lot of hidden rural poverty, and it just meant that they didn’t meet the criteria. So we’ve changed the criteria and that’s a good thing to do

We do want to move to try to decentralise it a bit and work much more closely with dioceses and parishes.

I think the game changer has been that we’ve now much more clearly got a set of owned priorities as a church and that therefore provides the criteria for spending.

And it might be in very small ways in rural communities or in so-called larger ways.

It’s the ‘or’ that bothers me in that sentence, but I could be reading too much into it. Why not say ‘and’ instead?

Save The Parish gave a level-headed response:

Following the press conference, Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent, of the Save the Parish campaign group, said: “We welcome the recognition of the pleading from Save The Parish and similar organisations that are fighting against cuts in clergy and the formation of mega-parishes.

“It is very pleasing that rural and small parishes will be able to apply for the new funding, having been deliberately excluded from the previous three-year round.

“The proof of the pudding will be whether these new funds are genuinely accessible in a way that eases the huge burden of the parish share which is a struggle for so many parishes.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Conclusion

The two illustrations above show how pharisaical the C of E senior clergy are.

They remind me of the Sanhedrin in the Gospels: haughtily lording their position over those they considered to be inferior — the faithful.

I do hope this new plan works out, but, on a wider note, senior clergy must really do better to be more Christlike in the way they deal with priests and laity.

The Revd Giles Fraser is a past Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral and former Rector at the south London church of St Mary, Newington. He also writes for UnHerd and is author of Chosen.

He will soon be taking up a new post as Vicar of St Anne’s in Kew, West London.

Fortunately, Fraser was able to stay at St Mary’s for Easter, the Church’s greatest feast, celebrating Christ’s resurrection from the dead:

The object hanging over the altar is a pyx. It contains a consecrated host, representing the Body of Christ, as remembered from the Last Supper in the sacrament of Holy Communion:

The congregation bought a very special bottle of wine for him to consecrate at his last Communion service there. How fitting that the winemaker’s surname is Le Moine — Monk:

These were members of St Mary’s on Easter 2019:

St Mary’s held a farewell party for him on Easter Day, April 17, 2022:

Then it was off to St Anne’s in Kew Green. How wonderful to have a cricket pitch next door:

Fraser has met the vicar of St Luke’s, also in Kew:

One wonders if they discussed Brexit:

In lighter matters, St Anne’s new vicar is planning on learning the piano. He received many supportive comments to this tweet:

Note the sheet music: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, one of the grandest of hymns.

Fraser posted his thoughts about changing parishes for UnHerd: ‘Have I abandoned my flock?’

It is a deeply moving account of faith, a church family and the challenges that ministry presents.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

He describes his final Easter at St Mary, Newington, damaged by the Germans in the Second World War:

When I celebrate Mass here for the final time, I need to remind myself that I am not abandoning people, because it’s not all about me. The only real job of a priest is to point beyond him or herself to that God who, I believe, is the only true ground of lasting hope. In a funny way, I suspect my departure has helped focus that for some of the congregation …

On Easter Sunday, as dawn breaks over South London, I will light a fire in the crumbling remains of my old church, substantially redesigned by the Luftwaffe, yet unbowed. I will take that fire into church and the first of the day’s baptisms will begin. Clouds of incense will pick up the light now streaming in through the window. The fire will be shared as everyone’s candles are lit. I will cry. Hugs will be shared. The victory over death will be proclaimed.

Later, we will feast on Jollof rice, which is a kind of sacrament of community round these parts. That seems a perfect way to say goodbye. We will always be family.

That morning, Fraser baptised two adults and two children. Easter Sunday is the traditional day for group baptisms.

He had this to say about the sacrament, which involves sprinkling of water, symbolic of full immersion:

like learning to swim, faith also involves the prospect of drowning. Baptism isn’t a little bit of genteel water sprinkling. The imagery is one of death and rebirth. It’s a simulated drowning. The old person is destroyed; the new one rises from the waters. Like Neo being unplugged from the Matrix and being reborn into a new reality. Evangelicals are not wrong when they speak of being born again. You can’t fully plan for what that involves. At some level, you just have to take the plunge.

He discussed moving out, discarding old belongings, comparing it to a type of death, rather apposite for Holy Week, the culmination of which is Good Friday:

I have been the priest at St Mary, Newington for ten years. This Sunday, I am moving on. A new parish awaits. The skip is full of stuff I remember buying with much excitement, but now looks like pointless trash; the salvation promised by advertising and the shopping centre is so short-lived. And now the removal vans have been — and trashed more of our apparently precious belongings — there are further trips to the local tip, which is rather poignantly located next to the crematorium.

This is where things come when they have stopped working: our fridges and our bodies. The tip and the crem are Good Friday places. This is the wasteland, the valley of the shadow of death. Perhaps one day we should gather here, rather than in a lovely church, to experience the full existential desolation of the crucifixion. Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion, was itself a rubbish dump. A place of human landfill. This is where our dreams come to die.

I have never been especially threatened by atheism. For one thing, atheism is good for business: it helps maintain the tension. Indifference is the real enemy. But also because atheism is assigned a pivotal place in the Christian narrative. The period between 3pm on Friday and dawn on Sunday symbolises my own atheistic imaginings. When He is murdered by the Romans, all the expectation and excitement of Jesus-following is shown up as a terrible, embarrassing mistake. We were conned. He wasn’t the new King after all. Might is right. Oh, I get atheism all right. It’s an essential part of the cycle of Holy Week.

Then he discusses the Resurrection:

A wander around Kew Gardens, right next to my new church, reveals the natural world coming back to glorious life after the dead of winter. It’s a wholly natural expression of deep Christian instinct: that there is life beyond death. That even death cannot keep life down.

The resurrection of Jesus is not magic. Not “a conjuring trick with bones”, as the great Bishop David Jenkins once put it.

By the way, Jenkins’s full quote was ‘Well, it’s certainly much more than just a conjuring trick with bones’.

Fraser continues:

It’s an acknowledgement that a life rooted in the eternal will not remain under the heel of perpetual nothingness. Agreed, this is not an empirical statement. I have stepped outside what can be demonstrated naturally. The God I describe is beyond time and space, the author of all things, not one thing among others.

“Blah,” go the atheists. But upon this “blah” I hang my whole life. The God who is there in the person of Jesus is the same one in whom everything moves and has their being. It’s not that physical death doesn’t happen. It’s just that it doesn’t mean what nihilists believe it means. Hope exists because God exists.

He expressed his concerns about leaving his congregation at St Mary, Newington, and remembered his arrival ten years ago. He left St Paul’s under a cloud, having run into trouble after hosting Occupy London on the Cathedral grounds:

As I leave my old parish, I feel a terrible sense of abandoning my people. It was hard to start with. Ten years ago, I was parachuted in by the Bishop who took pity on me after my resignation from St Paul’s Cathedral. Like all parishes, they wanted St Francis of Assisi with an MBA. What they got was a broken spirit, in hiding from the world. And to start with, many of them didn’t much care for what they got.

I don’t blame them really. I was a mess. Some of them left the church. But slowly we rebuilt and we bonded. Now they are my family, the water of baptism being thicker than the blood of biological relatedness. We have been through everything together: bereavements, deep disappointments, some of the happiest parties you can ever imagine, then the emotional desolation of lockdown. During my ten years here, some of the post-war estates have been demolished and new more expensive and private developments have taken their place. As gentrification spread, our congregation has become much younger and whiter …

Our new church intake looks very different. Apart from being younger and whiter, they were not raised in the faith. There were fewer infant baptisms for this generation. Here, faith is a choice not an inheritance. “I wish my parents had done this for me,” said one of the new baptismal candidates. I understand this. Becoming a Christian is much harder to do as an act of choice, more fraught with anxiety.

The generation raised under the aegis of liberalism have to bear the weight of their own choices. This is problematic because to be in a church is to be a part of a family. The idea that you choose your family, choose to be baptised, seems to introduce a strange contractual aspect to this relationship, like taking out a mobile phone contract. I wonder if those “wanting more” in baptism preparation are, on some level, asking me for the small print. Is that how they see the Bible, I wonder? I hope I have helped to disabuse them of this idea.

He says that he doesn’t have all the answers to people’s problems, however, the church is where we bring the problems we cannot solve:

I don’t have answers to many of the problems that people bring into this church. I can’t solve the deep poverty that many experience, nor the broken relationships, nor the desperate sense that the world is not responsive to everyone’s deepest needs. I am there to carry them, and they carry me. The church is where you can bring all the stuff that is impossible to solve. And there are advantages to this — it means that we are not frightened of all the stuff that cannot be remedied. We can carry failure. And we can only do this because, as I said before, hope exists because God exists.

I wish Giles Fraser well in Kew, with his ministry — and his piano lessons. I have a feeling he will really enjoy his new assignment and new pastime.

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