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In order to better understand and appreciate St Paul’s ministry, it is helpful to read the first half of Acts 9 carefully.

My past two posts — here and here — went through the background and conversion of Saul of Tarsus in detail.

The painting at left depicts his dramatic Damascene conversion according to St Luke’s account in Acts.

Today’s post looks at what happened after he was blinded and the men around him led him by the hand into Damascus.

The passage below is from the English Standard Version of the Bible. Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:10-19

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.

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My previous posts discussed how Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, devised a grand plan of travelling to Damascus to persecute Christians, only to find himself blinded by the light of Christ and toppled from his horse.

He travelled with a number of men in pursuit of converts whom Saul wanted transported back to Jerusalem for religious trial on charges of heresy. So much for that plan. Our Lord had other ideas, but, first, Saul had to be taught a lesson about his persecution of our Saviour.

Before being struck down, Saul of Tarsus was a nasty little piece of work. (Yes, he was of short stature. His Roman name Paul means ‘little’.) He went around persecuting Christians in Jerusalem. Man or woman, it did not matter. He was involved with the martyrdom of Stephen, after which the disciples (but not the Apostles) fled Jerusalem. Philip the Evangelist went to Samaria and made many converts there. Damascus was also a destination for evangelism, hence why Saul wanted to go there.

Saul and his companions found a place to stay in Damascus. Saul immediately spent three days contemplating his grave sins against Christ to the extent that he could not eat or drink. Physically, he was as helpless as a baby. Spiritually, he was growing: engaging in heartfelt prayer and increasing in divine grace. He was leaving his Pharisaical heritage behind and becoming a Christian.

Verse 10 tells us that the Lord appeared in a vision to a convert named Ananias. Matthew Henry tells us that Ananias was a native of Damascus, not a convert who fled Jerusalem, and that he had occasional visions from the Lord (emphases mine below):

it is said (Acts 22:12) that he had a good report of all the Jews who dwelt there, as a devout man according to the law; he had lately embraced the gospel, and given up his name to Christ, and, as it should seem, officiated as a minister, at least pro hac vice–on this occasion, though it does not appear that he was apostolically ordained

It is probable it was not the first time that he had heard the words of God, and seen the visions of the Almighty; for, without terror or confusion, he readily answers

The Lord told Ananias to go to a street called Straight and to the house of Judas (not Iscariot) where a certain Saul of Tarsus was praying (verse 11). John MacArthur says that Straight is the main avenue in Damascus:

It had a street that ran right straight through the middle of it from the eastern gate to the western gate, straight about three miles long. It’s still existing today. The street’s called Straight there, it’s called Darbal Mospakeem, different name of course. But it’s still there and the street called Straight, at one end of it was the house of Judas. Today some people say that there’s a spot where that house was and supposedly a closet where Saul was praying for those three days, but that’s conjecture.

One might wonder why the Lord did not send one of the Apostles to travel from Jerusalem to minister to Paul. It was no doubt more expedient to employ a local believer and that would also help the Church grow there. Furthermore, as Henry points out:

Surely, because Christ would employ variety of hands in eminent services, that the honours might not be monopolized nor engrossed by a few–because he would put work into the hands, and thereby put honour upon the heads, of those that were mean and obscure, to encourage them–and because he would direct us to make much of the ministers that are where our lot is cast, if they have ordained mercy to be faithful, though they are not of the most eminent.

As we discover in verse 12, the Lord had already given Saul a vision of a man named Ananias who would go to visit him and restore his sight. Saul’s expectations must have been high.

Ananias hesitated, telling the Lord that Saul was notorious for ‘evil’ — persecuting converts in Jerusalem (verse 13). Furthermore, he said that Saul was in Damascus to persecute Christ’s followers (verse 14). So, word had already reached the converts that Saul was going there under the authority of the chief priests in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the religious centre for Jewish authority, regardless of where Jews lived.

The Lord replied that He intended to use Saul as ‘a chosen instrument’ to minister to Gentile and Jew alike (verse 15). He added that Saul would suffer in His name (verse 16), which he did. He, the one who sought to imprison Christians, would himself be no stranger to confinement. He was instrumental in Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem and would also die a martyr, along with the Apostle Peter, in Rome.

Ananias obeyed the Lord and spoke a precise message, identifying himself, describing Saul’s being struck down and announcing that he would regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 17).

Note that Ananias laid hands on him (verse 17) — healing hands on someone who had been a believer’s worst enemy. Ananias also addressed the man he was fearing as ‘brother’. What an experience that must have been for both men.

Then, a supernatural event took place: ‘something like scales’ fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see once more (verse 18). This has a double meaning, one that is physical and one that is spiritual.

Did a scale-like substance really fall from Saul’s eyes? MacArthur says no:

Now this is Luke. Luke is a physician and so naturally he chooses a little metaphor that would be medical. He didn’t really have scales as it were as jose in the Greek, not to be confused with the Spanish jose. But it means as if. It was as if he had some medical problem and scales dropped of his eyes. 

Henry takes the verse literally:

Saul is delivered from the spirit of bondage by receiving sight (Acts 9:18), which was signified by the falling of scales from his eyes; and this immediately, and forthwith: the cure was sudden, to show that it was miraculous.

You’re welcome to interpret that as you like. Personally, I would like to think that there was a physical manifestation of a scale-like substance as God’s way of demonstrating to Saul how spiritually blind he had been for the following reason. Recall that Saul was born and raised a Pharisee. Recall how often Jesus told the Pharisees of their blindness — spiritual blindness. I think this was a physical manifestation, a divine way of driving home a point to Saul.

Henry offers this analysis:

This signified the recovering of him, [1.] From the darkness of his unconverted state. When he persecuted the church of God, and walked in the spirit and way of the Pharisees, he was blind; he saw not the meaning either of the law or of the gospel, Romans 7:9. Christ often told the Pharisees that they were blind, and could not make them sensible of it; they said, We see, John 9:41. Saul is saved from his Pharisaical blindness, by being made sensible of it. Note, Converting grace opens the eyes of the soul, and makes the scales to fall from them (Acts 26:18), to open men’s eyes, and turn them from darkness to light: this was what Saul was sent among the Gentiles to do, by the preaching of the gospel, and therefore must first experience it in himself.

The removal of scales would also signify that Saul’s time in judgement and terror had ended:

[2.] From the darkness of his present terrors, under the apprehension of guilt upon his conscience, and the wrath of God against him. This filled him with confusion, during those three days he sat in darkness, like Jonah for three days in the belly of hell; but now the scales fell from his eyes, the cloud was scattered, and the Sun of righteousness rose upon his soul, with healing under his wings.

Ananias then baptised Paul. Baptism is very important. I have read notional Christian websites that say it isn’t, but the New Testament has several mentions of baptism, beginning with Jesus in the Gospels and continuing in Acts. If it were unimportant, these mentions would not exist.

Henry tells us:

He was baptized, and thereby submitted to the government of Christ, and cast himself upon the grace of Christ. Thus he was entered into Christ’s school, hired into his family, enlisted under his banner, and joined himself to him for better for worse. The point was gained: it is settled; Saul is now a disciple of Christ, not only ceases to oppose him, but devotes himself entirely to his service and honour.

MacArthur says:

Baptism is so important people. If you haven’t gotten that message through the book of Acts you haven’t been listening. See? Baptism is critically important. Why? Because it’s a public confession of your identification with the body of believers.

I knew a lady who had strayed from the Church for many years. She married an unbeliever. She never had her daughter baptised. By the time I met her, she had returned to the Church and her daughter was an adult. This lady regretted never having had her daughter baptised as an infant because, later on, it was too late! She broached the subject with her daughter, but the young woman replied, ‘Why? I don’t even believe!’ Baptism confers grace. The lady knew it and regretted depriving her daughter of that grace, thinking it would persuade her to become a believer. But I digress.

In verse 19, St Luke tells us that Paul ate and was strengthened. MacArthur thinks it was a large Christian meal. He says in jest:

And if you know anything about how Christians feed, you can imagine the poor guy was almost sick when it was over.

Quite possibly!

Saul being Saul, he wasted no time in going out into Damascus to preach in Jesus’s name. Christ’s divine intervention transformed the zeal he had in persecuting converts to passionately preaching in His name.

More on that when Forbidden Bible Verses returns at the weekend.

jesus-praying-mount-of-olives-leadedglassworldcomThe evening of Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the Triduum — ‘three days’ in Latin — the most important days in the Church calendar, which conclude Easter evening.

Find out how Passover was celebrated in Jesus’s time and how important the Last Supper is to Christianity:

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

It is important to know that some Jews held this supper on Thursday and others on Friday, according to John MacArthur (emphases mine):

There actually were two different evenings when the Passover was celebrated. I’ll just leave it at this. The northern people in Galilee celebrated it on Thursday evening while the Judeans, the Sadducees and the people in the south celebrated it on Friday evening. This is perfect, so that Jesus could celebrate the Passover with His friends in Galilee when they celebrated it on Thursday and still die as the Passover lamb on Friday at the time when the southern Judeans were slaughtering their lambs for their Passover. So there are actually two times; on Thursday for those in the north, and on Friday for those in the south. And that’s an important reckoning because there are texts in John’s gospel, in particular, that make it necessary to understand that.

This is because of the difference in the way the two groups of Jews calculated their days:

Study Josephus. Study the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish law and other historical sources. You find that the Jews in the north and the Jewish people in the south, the Galileans say as opposed to the Judeans, had different ways of calculating their days. These chronological aspects have been a wonderful study in anybody’s…anybody who makes an effort to studying this in the New Testament is greatly enriched by it. But in the north, they calculated days from sunrise to sunrise…sunrise to sunrise. That was a day. Whereas in the south, they calculated the day from sunset to sunset. So that’s a very clear distinction. In Galilee, where Jesus and all the disciples except Judas, had grown up, they calculated days from sunrise to sunrise. So the fourteenth of Nissan was sunrise on Thursday to sunrise on Friday. That puts the Passover Thursday night. For the Jews in the south, it was sunset to sunset, so that puts it in late Friday for the southern Jews. Same day calculated two different ways. And that worked well for the Jews.

By the way, the Pharisees tended to go with the northern approach. The Sadducees who were all around Jerusalem tended to go, of course, with the southern approach. What that did was solve a couple of problems. It split the number of animals to be killed into two different periods, Thursday night and Friday night. It also reduced what were called regional clashes cause the southern people didn’t think too highly of the northern people. So it just was easier to have them separated.

Holy Communion stained glass home2romeThe posts below are resources for John’s Gospel, which provides the fullest description of the Last Supper and Jesus’s final discourses to the Apostles:

‘One of you will betray Me’ (John 13)

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14)

John 17 — the High Priestly Prayer: parts 1, 2 and 3

These posts discuss the words of consecration, which Jesus used at the Last Supper and continue to be part of Christian liturgy today:

Forbidden Bible Verses — Matthew 26:26-29

Forbidden Bible Verses — Mark 14:22-25

Peter’s three denials of Jesus took place after His arrest. Jesus foretold this when He and the Apostles were at the Mount of Olives that night:

Forbidden Bible Verses — Mark 14:26-31

So much happened that day. The Apostles had no idea what would happen on Friday. But Jesus knew full well, which is why He spent hours in prayer while the Twelve slept nearby.

This post continues the series on Percy Dearmer and his 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, published by Mowbray.

It concerns the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) used in the Church of England.

My first post was on the value of liturgical prayer and the second was about the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.

The third discussed how Anglican theology influenced the wording on the title page of the BCP.

This post explains more about the title page of the BCP, from Chapter 3 of Dearmer’s book. Excerpts and a summary follow, emphases mine below.

Dearmer breaks the BCP into five parts, or books:

(1) The Book of Common Prayer
(2) And Administration of the Sacraments,
(3) And other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church according to the use of the Church of England
(4) Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David pointed as they are to be sung or said in Churches
(5) And the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.

He describes the first book as being one of choir services:

Book 1. THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. The “Common Prayer” is the name for those services which are conducted in the choir, (10) Morning Prayer and (11) Evening Prayer, which are therefore called choir services. There were formerly eight such services (see p. 150), and together they are called the Divine Service. Common Prayer also includes (13) The Litany, which is a service of Intercession after Morning Prayer, preparatory to the Holy Communion.

N.B.: Dearmer uses Mattins for Morning Prayer and Evensong for Evening Prayer below.

The second book concerns the sacraments. He explains how two — Baptism and Holy Communion — were decided upon:

Book 2. ADMINISTRATION OF THE SACRAMENTS.(16) Holy Communion at the holy Table or altar, and (17, 18) Baptism, at the font. In these Sacraments— outward signs bringing an inward gracesomething is done: at the altar Christians are fed with the spiritual Body of their Master; at the font non-Christians are admitted into the Catholic or Universal Church. There are other outward signs in which something is done, as Confirmation, Matrimony, and Orders (the Ordination of Ministers); but there was much disputing at the time when the Prayer Book was produced as to the number of the Sacraments, and the English Church therefore contented herself with laying stress on the two great Sacraments of the Gospel, Baptism and Holy Communion, leaving the “five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction,” in a separate category. There can be little doubt that this was the wisest way of settling an unhappy dispute; and it leaves us free either to include the “lesser Sacraments,” as they are sometimes called, under this head or to class some or all of them among the other Rites of the Church. (See pp. 45, 47.)

A selection of prayers for special occasions follows.

Then comes the section of Scripture readings. That section precedes the rite for Holy Communion:

The Collects, Epistles, and Gospels to be used at the Ministration of the holy Communion, throughout the year,” as they are described in the Table of Contents; the Collects, however, are used also at Mattins and Evensong.

Those readings are the ones which were traditionally used in the earliest Christian denominations until the two- and three-year Lectionaries came into widespread use in the 1970s. It is rare for the celebrant to read them now.

Following the rite for Communion are those for the lesser sacraments and other rites. Note that a small catechism is included, which precedes the liturgy for Confirmation:

Book 3. OTHER RITES AND CEREMONIES OF THE CHURCH. It will be noticed that both the Gospel Sacraments and the “other” Rites, are described as “of the Church,” services, that is to say, not of the Anglican Communion only, but of the whole Church; though their ritual (i.e. the manner of saying) and their ceremonial (i.e. the manner of doing) are according to the English Use. Furthermore, the Title-page does not say “All other Rites”; there are some which are not in the Prayer Book (pp. 47-52), such as the Coronation Service, or the Form for the Consecration of a Church, which are used under episcopal sanction.

These Rites consist of certain of the “five commonly called Sacraments,” namely (20) Confirmation, to which is prefixed (19) the Catechism, which is the preparation for Confirmation, and was only separated from it at the last Revision ; (21) the Solemnization of Matrimony; and (22) the Visitation and Communion of the Sick. Those who, like our brethren of the Eastern Orthodox Church to-day, look for seven Sacraments, will find on p. 45 how two of the lesser Sacraments come under this head, while the seventh is given in Book 5, the Ordinal.

Then follow other Rites, (23) the Order for the Burial of the Dead, (24) the Churching, or Thanksgiving of Women after Child-birth, and (25) the Ash Wednesday service called A Commination.

I wrote about the significance of the Churching of Women a few years ago. The ceremony disappeared in the 20th century because modern women disliked the idea of supplication and spiritual purification. A new ceremony replaced it: Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child.

Sadly, people complaining about the Churching of Women overlooked the general tenor of the rite which is largely a joyful one, giving thanks for the mother’s health and her return to the congregation.

Back now to Dearmer. After the other rites comes the Psalter:

Book 4. THE PSALTER. The complete Book of the Psalms (26) which form the most essential part of Mattins and Evensong; they are arranged to be “read through once every month,” by grouping them under Morning and Evening Prayer for thirty days.

Two more rites follow. They are for special circumstances:

At the last Revision (1661) two sets of services were added— the Order of Baptism for those of Riper Years (18), and the Forms of Prayer to be used at Sea (27). The latter were inserted after the Psalter: it was doubtless felt that these sea services could not in the main be classed under “Other Rites,” and would be too prominent if printed after Mattins and Evensong. None the less their present position is a strange one, since they cannot be classed under Book 4 or Book 5. It would be better, perhaps, if they were printed among the Appendixes at the end.

Regarding the Order of Baptism for those of Riper Years, it now comes after the Order of Baptism both Publick and Private. Three amendments were made to the BCP: in 1964, 1965 and 1968, one of which no doubt accounts for the move.

The fifth book concerns ordination services:

Book5. THE ORDINAL (28) consists of three services, which were originally printed as a separate book, and published after the First Prayer Book was issued. These still have a Title-page (or half-page) of their own, in which they are described with definiteness and solemnity as ” The Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons according to the Order of the Church of England.”

I’m learning a lot from reading Dearmer’s book and hope that my fellow Anglicans are, too.

Next time — after Easter — we’ll look at Chapter 4, concerning the wider Church history of liturgy and prayer books for public worship.

This post continues the series on Percy Dearmer and his 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, first published by Mowbray in 1912.

My first post was on the value of liturgical prayer and last week’s was about the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.

Before I go into Dearmer’s breakdown of the title page of Book of Common Prayer (image courtesy of Wikipedia), I wanted to point out a very important paragraph of his which relates to it.

First, carefully note the wording on the title page of the 1662 BCP.

Dearmer rightly points out (emphases mine below):

A truly admirable description! What a mass of ignorance would be removed if only people knew the Title-page of the Prayer Book! The notion, for instance, that “Priests” are a Roman Catholic institution, and the still common impression on the Continent of Europe that, the Anglican Church at the Reformation gave up the priesthood and is indifferent to Catholic order: the common idea, too, that “Sacramentalism” is a “high-church” idea foisted on to the Protestantism of England: or the notion that our proper use should be the Genevan Use, or the Roman Use, instead of that English Use which the Title-page orders. Certainly many widespread mistakes would never have come into existence had people but read the words that stare us in the face on this Title-page.

That is an excellent point, well made. All Anglicans — especially those who align themselves liturgically with Presbyterianism — should remember it.

The Anglican Church was never intended to be Presbyterian in liturgy or ritual. There is a small but vocal contingent of conservative Anglicans who say it was and would like to make it so even today. Those people point to the Puritans, who adopted a Calvinistic form of Anglicanism.

Bible Hub explains Puritan theology:

It is not too much to say that the ruling theology of the Church of England in the latter half of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century was Calvinistic. [1154] The best proof of this is furnished by the ‘Zurich Letters,’ [1155] extending over the whole period of the Reformation, the Elizabethan Articles, the Second Book of Homilies (chiefly composed by Bishop Jewel), the Lambeth Articles, the Irish Articles, and the report of the delegation of King James to the Calvinistic Synod of Dort. [1156]

This theological sympathy between the English and the Continental Churches extended also to the principles of Church government, which was regarded as a matter of secondary importance, and subject to change, like rites and ceremonies, ‘according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word’ (Art. XXXIV.). The difference was simply this: the English Reformers, being themselves bishops, retained episcopacy as an ancient institution of the Church catholic, but fully admitted (with the most learned fathers and schoolmen, sustained by modern commentators and historians) the original identity of the offices of bishop and presbyter; while the German and Swiss Reformers, being only presbyters or laymen, and opposed by their bishops, fell back from necessity rather than choice upon the parity of ministers, without thereby denying the human right and relative importance or expediency of episcopacy as a superintendency over equals in rank. The more rigid among the Puritans departed from both by attaching primary importance to matters of discipline and ritual, and denouncing every form of government and public worship that was not expressly sanctioned in the New Testament.

The Bible Hub essay goes on to explain the differing views of episcopacy — governing the denomination through bishops — that Anglican clergy had at that time. In short, the Puritans opposed episcopacy, which would have given the Anglican Church a Presbyterian polity.

Bible Hub cites an American Episcopalian, the Rev. Dr. E. A. Washburn, of New York, describing him as a modern-day ‘divine’ (esteemed, very learned theologian), therefore, highly knowledgeable in this subject:

‘The doctrinal system of the English Church, in its relation to other Reformed communions, especially needs a historic treatment; and the want of this has led to grave mistakes, alike by Protestant critics and Anglo-Catholic defenders …

‘The Articles ask our first study. It is plain that the foundation-truths of the Reformation — justification by faith, the supremacy and sufficiency of written Scripture, the fallibility of even general councils — are its basis. Yet it is just as plain that in regard of the specific points of theology, which were the root of discord in the Continental Churches, as election, predestination, reprobation, perseverance, and the rest, these Articles speak in a much more moderate tone …

‘We may thus learn the structure of the liturgical system. The English Reformers aimed not to create a new, but to reform the historic Church; and therefore they kept the ritual with the episcopate, because they were institutions rooted in the soil. They did not unchurch the bodies of the Continent, which grew under quite other conditions. No theory of an exclusive Anglicanism, as based on the episcopate and general councils, was held by them. Such a view is wholly contradictory to their own Articles. But the historic character of the Church gave it a positive relation to the past; and they sought to adhere to primitive usage as the basis of historic unity. In this revision, therefore, they weeded out all Romish errors, the mass, the five added sacraments, the legends of saints, and superstitious rites; but they kept the ancient Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene in the forefront of the service, the sacramental offices, the festivals and fasts relating to Christ or Apostles with whatever they thought pure. Such a work could not be perfect, and it is false either to think it so or to judge it save by its time. There are archaic forms in these offices which retain some ideas of a scholastic theology. The view of regeneration in the baptismal service, decried to-day as Romish, can be found by any scholar in Melanchthon or in Bullinger’s Decades. We may see in some of the phrases of the communion office the idea of more than a purely spiritual participation, yet the view is almost identical with that of Calvin. The dogma of the mass had been renounced, but the Aristotelian notions of spirit and body were still embodied in the philosophy of the time. The absolution in the office for the sick, and like features, have been magnified into “Romanizing germs” on one side and Catholic verities on another … The satire, so often repeated … that the Church has a “Popish Liturgy and Calvinistic Articles,” is as ignorant as it is unjust. All liturgical formularies need revision; but such a task must be judged by the standard of the Articles, the whole tenor of the Prayer-book, and the known principles of the men. In the same way we learn their view of the Episcopate. Not one leading divine from Hooper to Hooker claimed any ground beyond the fact of primitive and historic usage … The Puritan of that day was as narrow as the narrow Churchman of our own.

‘… Lutheranism and Calvinism did each its part in the development of a profound theology. The English Church had a more comprehensive doctrine and a more conservative order. It placed the simple Apostles’ Creed above all theological confessions as its basis, and a practical system above the subtleties of controversy …’

The beginning of the Bible Hub essay summarises Anglicanism well:

The Reformed Church of England occupies an independent position between Romanism on the one hand, and Lutheranism and Calvinism on the other, with strong affinities and antagonisms in both directions

The Reformation in England was less controlled by theology than on the Continent, and more complicated with ecclesiastical and political issues. Anglican theology is as much embodied in the episcopal polity and the liturgical worship as in the doctrinal standards. The Book of Common Prayer is catholic, though purged of superstitious elements; the Articles of Religion are evangelical and moderately Calvinistic. [1142]

In closing, the essay has this gem on the English:

The English mind is not theorizing and speculative, but eminently practical and conservative; it follows more the power of habit than the logic of thought; it takes things as they are, makes haste slowly, mends abuses cautiously, and aims at the attainable rather than the ideal.

Well said. Such characteristics gave us the Church of England and other churches in communion with her around the world.

Bible kevinroosecomThe 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.

Matthew 19:3-6

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

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Last week’s entry discussed the first two verses of Matthew 19, which introduce Jesus’s teachings on divorce.

He was now in Judea, beyond the Jordan, in a region called Perea.

As last week’s post explained, the crowds continued to gather around Him. Among them were the usual groupings of the Jewish hierarchy.

The Pharisees approached Jesus with a question on the legality of divorce for any cause (verse 3). This question was designed to trap and discredit Him.

There was also another angle. The Pharisees were known to divorce their wives for any reason, no matter how trivial. I wrote about this at length in 2014 when discussing Luke 16:18.

Briefly, two schools of Jewish thought existed on the matter. Rabbi Shammai said that divorce was strictly forbidden. Rabbi Hillel said that any trivial reason provided grounds for divorce. Not surprisingly, Hillel’s argumentation was the more popular with the Pharisees.

There is also a third aspect regarding not only the institution of marriage but also the location of this confrontation. John MacArthur says that John the Baptist was held prisoner in Perea, at or near Herod Antipas’s summer home in Machaerus. John the Baptist had warned Herod Antipas about his adulterous relationship with Herodias, who grew very angry with his pronouncements. Her daughter was the one who requested the beheading of this last great prophet of the Bible.

Instead of debating the Pharisees on schools of rabbinical thought, Jesus answered by going straight to the creation story (verses 4 – 6). He cited Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24:

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

He asked if they had never read those verses before. They, of course, would have done. Therefore, it was time for Him to remind them of their meaning and import. As Matthew Henry’s commentary states (emphases mine):

Note, It will be of great use to us often to think of our creation, how and by whom, what and for what, we were created. He made them male and female, one female for one male so that Adam could not divorce his wife, and take another, for there was no other to take. It likewise intimated an inseparable union between them Eve was a rib out of Adam’s side, so that he could not put her away, but he must put away a piece of himself, and contradict the manifest indications of her creation.

Subsequent formal marriage ceremony rites symbolise the reuniting of man with woman into one, indissoluble body. This makes the bonds of marriage the strongest of family relationships:

a man must leave his parents, to cleave to his wife. See here the power of a divine institution, that the result of it is a union stronger than that which results from the highest obligations of nature.

it is in a manner equivalent to that between one member and another in the natural body. As this is a reason why husbands should love their wives, so it is a reason why they should not put away their wives, for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, or cut it off, but nourishes and cherishes it, and does all he can to preserve it. They two shall be one, therefore there must be but one wife, for God made but one Eve for one Adam, Malachi 2:15.

Note that God did not make more than one male and one female. His plan and His purpose in doing this should remind us of the fundamentals of couples and their loving bond.

John MacArthur points out what God did and did not do:

He did not make provision for polygamy.  He did not make provision for divorce by making any spare people

When he made them, he made them a male and a female, and that was it.  Not a male and two females, not four folks who could work it out the best way.  Very basic.  So, in the case of Adam and Eve, divorce was not only wrong, it was inadvisable.  Not only that, it was impossible.  It was absolutely impossible.  There were no alternatives.  There was nowhere to go, no one else to talk to, nothing.  That’s the way God meant it.  If it isn’t you two, it isn’t anything.  This is God’s intended creation, a non-optional, indissoluble union …

And just because spares came along as time went on didn’t change God’s original intention, you understand?  It didn’t change it at all.  And God never intended two people to be married and be poking around seeing if they like somebody better.  That is not an alternative that God ever intended, and that’s obvious by virtue of his creation. 

MacArthur explains the word ‘cleave’:

It means basically “to have a bond that can’t be broken.”  It’s a word that’s used really for glue.  It means “to be stuck”  …  It’s a happy stuck and not a sad stuck.  That’s the idea here.  But you’re stuck.  You are cleaving, the idea of glue.  In fact, there’s a translation … where it even uses the word “glue” in Genesis 2 to refer to this.  “A man should be glued to his wife.” 

There also is inherent in the word another thought that takes it into the heart a little more, and it’s sometimes used to speak of pursuing hard after something.  And so you have the idea then of two people who are stuck together, and are so because they pursue hard after each other.  So you have two hearts diligently and utterly committed to pursuing one another in love … Glued in mind, glued in will, glued in spirit, glued in emotion

Malachi 2:16 is relevant in this context, likening divorce to attacking oneself physically:

For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[a] says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers[b] his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

Henry considers that verse and the Greek word used in the ancient text of Matthew 19:6:

From hence he infers, What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. Note, (1.) Husband and wife are of God’s joining together synezeuxenhe hath yoked them together, so the word is, and it is very significant. God himself instituted the relation between husband and wife in the state of innocence. Marriage and the sabbath are the most ancient of divine ordinances. Though marriage be not peculiar to the church, but common to the world, yet, being stamped with a divine institution, and here ratified by our Lord Jesus, it ought to be managed after a godly sort, and sanctified by the word of God, and prayer. A conscientious regard to God in this ordinance would have a good influence upon the duty, and consequently upon the comfort, of the relation. (2.) Husband and wife, being joined together by the ordinance of God, are not to be put asunder by any ordinance of man. Let not man put them asunder not the husband himself, nor any one for him not the magistrate, God never gave him authority to do it. The God of Israel hath said, that he hateth putting away, Malachi 2:16. It is a general rule that man must not go about to put asunder what God hath joined together.

Next week’s entry will explore why divorce came into being during Moses’s time.

For now, perhaps these verses and this type of explanation should be made more a part of courses undertaken in preparation for marriage. We normally think of the marriage ceremony in church as defining the indissoluble character of such a union.

The greater headline to take away is that the ceremony is secondary in importance to the symbolic fusion of husband and wife in the same way that Adam and Eve were bonded together as two people, the rib once again ‘united’ with the rest into one ‘body’, functioning as one entity together in love.

That pertains to secular wedding ceremonies, too, whether those couples believe it or not.

This is why it is so important we make a careful, deliberate decision before undertaking the commitment and consequences of the marital contract.

Next time: Matthew 19:7-9

Last Supper Byzantine Museum San Giorgio Venice Byz-LastS-BR750 paradoxplace_comThose looking for resources on Maundy — Holy — Thursday and an explanation of Passover and the Last Supper might find the following posts useful:

What is the Triduum?

‘One of you will betray Me’

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, mentions Holy Trinity)

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

John 17 — the High Priestly Prayer: parts 1, 2 and 3

(Image credit: Paradoxplace.com)

The Epistle for Maundy Thursday in Year C of the three-year Lectionary is 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:

11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,

11:24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

11:25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

John MacArthur tells us that 1 Corinthians existed before the gospels were written. That makes it:

the first statement of God, in print, regarding the Lord’s Table.  For a full understanding of all of it, you need to read the account in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but here is the earliest account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and Paul says it was directly from the words of Jesus.  He Himself instituted it.

In the preceding verses, Paul took his converts to task for abusing Christ’s body and blood. MacArthur explains that:

they were coming to the Lord’s Supper drunk, gluttonous, that the rich were stuffing themselves in a gluttonous drunken manner and withholding from the poor so that they had nothing to eat in the love feast which proceeded the Lord’s Supper in that era.  That they came to the Lord’s Supper hating one another, with factions and divisions and bitternesses and unconfessed sin.  And the result of all of it is in verse 20.  Paul says, “When you come together therefore into one place,” and here’s the literal Greek, “it is impossible that you should eat the Lord’s Supper.”  You may be having something you think is the Lord’s Supper, but that’s an impossibility because of your attitude.  Some of you are drunk.  Some of you are deprived.  Some of you are gluttonous.  Some of you are hating one another.  There is bitterness, there is faction, there is division.  There are class divisions.  There are divisions over theological viewpoints.  There are divisions over every conceivable opinion within the church.  There is no real communion of the believers.  There is no real communion with Christ because of all the sinfulness.  You have debauched, desecrated the Lord’s Supper, and what you’re doing is not the Lord’s Supper.  Whatever you call it, it is not.

On that subject, 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 sound a warning against receiving Holy Communion unworthily, because doing so can be fatal:

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[g] 31 But if we judged[h] ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined[i] so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

The verses in between — this year’s Maundy Thursday epistle — are Paul’s explanation of the importance of remembering and proclaiming the Last Supper until Christ Jesus comes again in glory.

He begins by making it clear that the bread and the cup are God-given, not manmade traditions (verse 23). MacArthur says:

In other words, here is a divine reality. 

Matthew Henry’s commentary reminds us that Paul was not among the apostles at the Last Supper, however:

He had the knowledge of this matter by revelation from Christ: and what he had received he communicated, without varying from the truth a tittle, without adding or diminishing.

Paul quoted Jesus’s words regarding His body and blood (verses 24,25). We hear our clergy recite them in the prayers of consecration used in Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches. Paul was putting Holy Communion into an historical context for the Corinthians — and us.

Paul wanted his converts and us to know that whenever we come together to partake of this most blessed Sacrament, we proclaim our Lord’s death until He comes again (verse 26).

As with John 13, from which we have the gospel readings for Spy Wednesday and Maundy Thursday, we find the same juxtaposition of historic events and divine love in the epistle of 1 Corinthians 11.

The Last Supper was Jesus’s and the apostles’ commemoration of Passover. Passover recalls God’s mercy and love in delivering His people from bondage in Egypt when each household sacrificed a lamb. Jesus showed His mercy and love by dying on the cross as the once-sufficient sacrifice for our sins, which is why we call Him the Lamb of God. The night before, even though He knew Judas would betray Him, He washed His apostles’ feet and asked them to follow His example in future. He then broke bread and drank wine with them, recalling Passover and transforming those elements into His body and blood.

MacArthur explains:

If you study the gospels with that in mind, you can pick out just about detail by detail what they’re doing at each point in the Lord’s Supper, the Passover.  Somewhere along the line, at the point of unleaven bread being broken before the meal, Jesus took that bread that symbolized the exodus, broke it and said, “This bread is My,” what?  “Body.”  After the meal He took that third cup, and we know it was after the meal because it says, “After He had supped,” or after He had had supper, it doesn’t mean after He had drunk it first, it means after supper.  He took that third cup and said, “This cup which to you has represented the blood of a lamb at the Passover is no longer representative of that; this cup is My blood which is shed for you.”  And by that, Jesus transformed the Passover into the Lord’s Supper.  And He said, “Now, when you want to remember, you don’t want to remember exodus, you don’t want to remember Egypt anymore, you don’t want to remember Passover when you think of Savior God, when you think of God as deliverer.  You want to remember My death.  The Passover was a great thing that got you out of Egypt and ultimately into Canaan.  My death is going to get you out of bondage to Satan and ultimately into heaven.  The Passover provided for you only a physical release.  My death will provide for you an eternal and spiritual release.”  And when you want a contact point for God as Savior, for God as deliverer, it isn’t going to be the Passover feast, it’s going to be the Lord’s Supper. 

Henry’s commentary tells us:

The things signified by these outward signs; they are Christ’s body and blood, his body broken, his blood shed, together with all the benefits which flow from his death and sacrifice: it is the New Testament in his blood. His blood is the seal and sanction of all the privileges of the new covenant; and worthy receivers take it as such, at this holy ordinance. They have the New Testament, and their own title to all the blessings of the new covenant, confirmed to them by his blood …

Our Saviour, having undertaken to make an offering of himself to God, and procure, by his death, the remission of sins, with all other gospel benefits, for true believers, did, at the institution, deliver his body and blood, with all the benefits procured by his death, to his disciples, and continues to do the same every time the ordinance is administered to the true believers. This is here exhibited, or set forth, as the food of souls. And as food, though ever so wholesome or rich, will yield no nourishment without being eaten, here the communicants are to take and eat, or to receive Christ and feed upon him, his grace and benefits, and by faith convert them into nourishment to their souls. They are to take him as their Lord and life, yield themselves up to him, and live upon him. He is our life, {cf11ul Col 3:4}.

Paul called upon the Corinthians — and us — to partake of the Sacrament frequently with all reverence. It is a remembrance which, as Henry wrote, confers divine grace and eternal life.

Princess Charlotte of Cambridge was christened at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Sandringham on July 5, 2015.

The newest member of Britain’s Royal Family wore a replica of the christening gown Queen Victoria’s daughter the Princess Royal, also named Victoria, had in 1841. The original is too fragile to be worn.

The Duchess of Cambridge borrowed the pram used by Queen Elizabeth for her children.

Prince George was dressed similarly to his father Prince William when the latter was his age: red shorts and a white shirt with red ornamentation across the chest.

The Daily Telegraph has an excellent set of photos from the day.

The paper also has a diary of events and personalities which is well worth reading.

Rain did not deter a huge crowd from gathering on ‘the paddock’ — public area — outside the church. Some had travelled from the United States. Eighty-year old Terry Hutt made a cross-country journey from Somerset to Norfolk for the occasion. He had also camped out at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington (London) awaiting Charlotte’s birth nine weeks ago.

By the time the ceremony began, summer sunshine abounded.

The Lily Font was used for the first time since 1841. It was created for the Princess Royal Victoria that year. A Kensington Palace tweet explained that the decorations on the font — lilies, water lilies and ivy — represent ‘purity and new life’. The Lily Font is part of the Crown Jewels collection at the Tower of London. A matching ewer was also used. It contained water from the River Jordan.

The Telegraph listed the order of service (see 16:30 entry):

Kensington Palace has released details of the order of service.

The Duke and Duchess have chosen two hymns, Praise to the Lord, The Almighty and Come Down, O Love Divine.

The lesson is from Matthew 18, verses 1-5, read by James Meade.

The anthems are I Will Sing With The Spirit and God Be In My Head, both by John Rutter.

Members of The Sandringham Church Choir are singing at the service.

The processional organ music is R. Vaughan Williams’ Prelude on “Rhosymedre”.

The recessional organ music is G. F. Handel’s Overture and Allegro from Concerto VIII in A.

Matthew 18:1-5 reads as follows:

Who Is the Greatest?

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,

The Archbishop of Canterbury, James Welby, performed the baptism — assisted by the Rev Canon Jonathan Riviere, Rector of the Sandringham group of parishes — and gave the sermon (see 17:41 entry). The Archbishop said (in part):

It seems that different forms of ambition are hard wired into almost all of us. At a baptism our ambitions are rightly turned into hopes and prayers for the child, today for Princess Charlotte. Everyone wants something for their children. At our best we seek beauty, not necessarily of form, but of life.

In the reading from Matthew 18, Jesus is trying to turn one kind of ambition, an ambition for place and prestige, into an ambition for a beautiful life. To be great in the Kingdom of Heaven, he tells his very pushy disciples, is not about position but about beauty of life, a life that looks like his, and his example is someone unimportant in those days, a child …

Such beauty of character begins with baptism, and is established in the habits of following and loving Jesus Christ, habits to be learned from parents and God parents, and the whole community of the church.

Let us pray that the Princess grows up to be a model of faith and practice.

A private tea was held afterward at Sandringham. It included the sharing of the top tier of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding cake. This is a heartwarming British tradition. As our wedding cakes are heavy fruit cakes, they keep well, particularly with fondant and royal icing!

Holy Communion stained glass home2romeDepending on where Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans live and where they go to church, the feast of Corpus Christi — ‘Body of Christ’ in Latin — was either Thursday, June 4 or will be Sunday, June 7, 2015.

Traditionally, the feast falls on the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday. However, where no weekday church services are held, the observance is on the first Sunday after Trinity.

My 2010 post explains much more about Corpus Christi, the ceremony and the symbolism behind it. It was St Juliana’s wish (as Sister Juliana in the 13th century) that a feast day be dedicated to the Body of Christ. Whilst we commemorate the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, the events of Holy Week are so dramatic that she thought a separate day later in the year would be appropriate. The first Corpus Christi observance took place in 1312.

It is, therefore, fitting that we have Pentecost Sunday, Trinity Sunday and the feast of Corpus Christi in that order.

The stained glass window pictured above is symbolic of this feast. The reason that rays of light are shown in this and similar depictions is to symbolise the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood.

Monstrance stisidore-yubacityorgCorpus Christi often includes an outdoor procession in Catholic and High Churches. A monstrance (pictured at right) is used, again with rays proceeding from it.

chalice six scalloped edges homepageeircomnetChalices also have their symbolism. Often, we see them with six points or six scalloped edges. These represent the Six Attributes of the Deity: power, wisdom, majesty, mercy, justice and love.

Many people today baulk at the seeming extravagance of monstrances, chalices and clerical vestments.  It is important to remember that these items are created with such elegance so as to honour God and His Son Jesus Christ.  That may not wash with everyone’s interpretation of Christianity, but for those who hold to Catholic and traditional Anglican or Lutheran teachings, only the most precious metals, aesthetic workmanship and finest fabrics may be used.

j03138821The frequency of Holy Communion in Protestant churches has increased in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Many Protestants have deplored the sparsely scheduled Holy Communion service, which, until recently, had been monthly or perhaps twice-monthly.

However, historically, everything is relative. At the time of the Reformation, most Catholics received the Sacrament once a year at Easter.

Therefore, even a Protestant reception once a month would have been 12 times more frequent than a Catholic one in that era.

The words ‘frequency’ and ‘regular’ have made many Protestants over the age of 50 forget the traditions that we grew up with. I have an Episcopalian friend in the United States who says that every Sunday service has long been one of Holy Communion. Yet, we were both longtime members of an urban Episcopal church which had such a service only once a month. The other Sundays featured Morning Prayer. Granted, as that congregation was a large one, the 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services were those of Holy Communion. It seems an appropriate middle way.

Lutherans are receiving Communion much more often, although when I was growing up, my neighbours’ church — along with all the other many Lutheran churches in our town — had such services only once a month. This has been blamed on a shortage of clergy in the 19th century; the infrequency became the norm (see item 7, page 3 of this PDF).

Yet, almost no Protestant church held Communion services more than once a month. To cite another example, Methodists have had varied attitudes towards the Sacrament. As with Lutherans, they, too, historically had fewer ordained clergy and, as such, fewer Communion services. John Wesley advised them to go to the local Anglican church for Communion. Our local Methodist church has monthly Communion; the celebrant is either the pastor, in charge of three other churches in his Circuit, or one of the Anglican priests.

This paper from the Methodist Church in Great Britain describes the history of Communion frequency and what Methodists think of the Sacrament (see page 2 of this PDF, emphases mine):

2 The early Methodists were expected to practise constant and frequent Communion, either at the parish church (although in the first century of Methodism, 1740 to 1840, it was not the custom to celebrate Communion every week in most parish churches) or in their own chapels, receiving Communion either from Church of England clergy or, later, from their own itinerant preachers (ministers). However, in each of the branches of Methodism before the 1932 union, the number of Sunday congregations far exceeded the number of such ministers. This was usually the main reason why the Lord’s Supper continued to be celebrated no more than monthly in the town chapels and usually only quarterly in the villages.

3 Today Methodists vary hugely in their attachment to Holy Communion. For some it is at the very heart of their discipleship, for some it is one treasured means of grace among others and for a small minority of Methodists Communion is not perceived as either desirable or necessary.

Although many today will disagree, there is also a danger in receiving Communion unworthily: not being in the right frame of mind, being unbaptised or living a dissolute life.

In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the 1662 Holy Communion liturgy has a very long prayer in which the priest exhorts members of the congregation to determine whether they are worthy to receive the Sacrament. Although no longer read in BCP services, it is based on Articles 28 and 29 of the 39 Articles of Religion:

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.  (Article 28)

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.  (Article 29)

Decades earlier, Martin Luther wrote:

It is useful and good that arrogant, godless blasphemers be so cut off that they should not join in partaking of the holy sacrament, for one should not ‘throw to the dogs what is holy, nor pearls before swine’ [Matt. 7:6] … It is very good and useful that our possession should not be scattered among the unworthy but kept holy and pure among the humble alone. (“That These Words of Christ, ‘This is My Body,’ etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 37 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961], pp. 131-32)

Some of the Reformed (Calvinist) churches required ministers to interview their congregants prior to the Holy Communion service. Worthy Huguenots received a méreau — token — to present at church that particular Sunday. Other Reformed churches had the same tradition in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries:

Participation among communion among 18th Reformed protestants was slim as well. Usually, in the days leading up to Communion, prospective communicants had to go through an inquiry with a minister into the state of his soul before being admitted. They called it fencing the table. If the man passed the inquiry, he received a Communion token. Then on Communion Sunday, he presented the token to receive Communion. At a Presyberian museum in Montreat, NC they have a collection of tokens. Someone named Tenney I think wrote a book about them and included photos.

This provides evidence as to why Holy Communion services and reception of the Sacrament were infrequent.

Catholics themselves only began frequently approaching the altar for Eucharist in the early part of the 20th century:

Lack of frequency in reception of communion was not unusual in that period. In 1905, Pope Pius X, in Sacra Tridentina Synodus,[20] exhorted Catholics to receive communion frequently, even daily.

The ‘regular’ and ‘frequent’ ‘celebration’ of Holy Communion has led to another issue of improper reception of the Sacrament: universal Communion, available in most mainstream Protestant denominations — Anglican, Episcopalian, ELCA (Lutheran) and PCUSA (Presbyterian) among them.

A few years ago, I made a case against universal Communion from Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed perspectives. These historically have stemmed from St Paul’s warning to the Corinthians about improper reception of the Sacrament (1 Corinthians 11:27-30):

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[g]

Therefore, receiving Holy Communion should be an awesome and fearsome occasion, done with a reverent mind and humble heart.

It is no accident that the faithful have been receiving the Sacrament infrequently until recent decades.

May we be mindful and prayerful when we approach the Lord’s table.

Stained glass pitcher christtheservantsc Lutheran Church Conway SCThe trial Church of England (CofE) baptismal rite — running from now to Easter Sunday 2014 — omits any reference to Satan.

In any other Catholic or Protestant denomination, one of the principles of this holy sacrament, the first Christians (should) receive, is to actively renounce Satan and his works.

Today’s rites

In the latest CofE prayerbook (first used in 2000) — Common Worship — the part of the text called The Decision reads as follows (‘president’ refers to the priest):

A large candle may be lit. The president addresses the candidates directly, or through their parents, godparents and sponsors

In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light. To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him.

Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?

I reject them.

Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?

I renounce them.

Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?

I repent of them.

Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?

I turn to Christ.

Do you submit to Christ as Lord?

I submit to Christ.

Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?

I come to Christ.

Where there are strong pastoral reasons, the alternative form of the Decision (page 168) may be used

The Alternative Form of the Decision — reads as follows:

Where there are strong pastoral reasons, the following may be used in place of the Decision in the service of Holy Baptism and at other Initiation services.

The president addresses the candidates directly, or through their parents, godparents and sponsors

Therefore I ask:

Do you turn to Christ?

I turn to Christ.

Do you repent of your sins?

I repent of my sins.

Do you renounce evil?

I renounce evil.

These rites have been in place for several years and are nothing new. Some revisions were made in 2000 and others in 2005.

However, why they need further watering down is anyone’s guess. To say that Satan is theologically incompatible with 21st century living is farcical.

As is the case for marriage, the vicar or curate should have discussions with the parents of the child being baptised. (Any adult candidate for Baptism would no doubt undergo an interview.)

He — or she — would ask what their understanding of basic Christian teaching is, the way most of us learnt it as children. Where one of the parents (or an adult candidate) says, ‘Well, I don’t believe there is a devil’, then the priest can explain that, scripturally, there is and discuss the theological position.

I find it curious that Religious Education is mandated in England, yet we have so many a) unbelievers and b) churchgoers who are theologically ignorant.

I agree with my Episcopalian reader from across the pond, underground pewster, who writes:

Screwtape is rubbing his hands in glee. His devils have successfully carried out the biggest stunt they ever attempted. They have killed the Devil. To the collective mind of Man there is no more Devil. This accomplishment tops their earlier elimination of the concept of Sin.

The Devil is dead! Long live the king, ME!

“Hee, hee, hee…” – Screwtape.

I pity any clergyman who cannot explain the existence of the Devil as the author of evil.

Why the changes?

Personally, I suspect that England does not have enough confessing — professing, choose as you like — Christians to serve as godfathers and godmothers.

The CofE offers other explanations, these from the Daily Mail (emphases mine):

The Bishop of Wakefield Stephen Platten, who chairs the commission, said repentance was implied in phrases urging people to ‘turn away from evil’, and defended the omission of the devil by saying it was ‘theologically problematic’.

Odd, that. The New Testament has several references to the devil — Satan — and demons, his servants.

And, whilst not agreeing, another prefaced his opposition with this general comment:

… one senior member of the General Synod, who did not wish to be named, said: The trouble is that large parts of the Church of England don’t believe in hell, sin or repentance. They think you can just hold hands and smile and we will all go to Heaven. That is certainly not what Jesus thought

True enough — and to unbelievers’ peril. In fact, the ceremony from Common Worship concludes — after the aforementioned Decision (president’s words first, then the witnesses responding [in bold]):

Do not be ashamed to confess the cross of Christ crucified.

Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil, and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life.

The revised conclusion of invocation and response for the trial period, reads:

Do not be ashamed of Christ. You are his for ever.

Stand bravely with him. Oppose the power of evil, and remain his faithful disciple to the end of your life.

If one reads John 6, it is unclear whether everyone is His forever. Jesus states the following (John 6:37 — there are more statements in this chapter):

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

Jesus gladly and graciously accepts those whom His Father sends to Him. That does not, however, necessarily mean everyone.

The older series of invocation and response ended as follows:

Do you believe and trust in God the Father?

I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth.

The ending to the trial version has been reworded:

Do you believe in God the Father, source of all being and life, the one for whom we exist?

I believe and trust in him.

Hmm. Seems as if there is a bit of ‘paid jobs for the guys and gals’ in the CofE, not unlike the editors and compilers of the Lectionary.

Why reword the ceremony invocation and responses at all?

In addition to the aforementioned unbelief prevalent among our population, objections to the old wording, according to those whom the Mail interviewed, have to do with a certain word:

The new text … also drops the word ‘submit’ in the phrase ‘Do you submit to Christ as Lord?’ because it is thought to have become ‘problematical’, especially among women who object to the idea of submission

Wow. Anyone who has a problem submitting to their only Mediator and Advocate really does have a problem. It seems as if heresy is alive and well within England’s established Church in that so many people seem to believe that Christ was merely human, but not, as all true Christians believe — all human and all divine — one of the holy mysteries which is impossible for us to discern.

The objectors

According to the Mail, many CofE churchmen and synod members agree that this wording is weakening the baptismal vows taken by or on behalf of the candidate:

Alison Ruoff, a lay member of the General Synod from London, said the new version was ‘weak and woolly’ and lacked conviction.

She said: ‘By removing all mention of the devil and rebellion against God, we are left to our own vague understanding of what evil might or might not mean.’

The retired Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, wrote the conclusion to the Mail’s article, pointing out (excerpts below):

Since at least the 1970s there has been a fashion  in the Church of England to minimise depth and mystery in its worship because of the alleged need to make its services ‘accessible’.

The new alternative service for baptism, which has been sent for trial, continues this trend. Instead of explaining what baptism means and what the various parts of the service signify, its solution is to do away with key elements of the service altogether!

From ancient times, the structure of the service has included the renunciation of sin, the world and the devil and the turning to Christ as Lord and Saviour.

The very first baptisms of the Church took place after St Peter’s call at Pentecost to ‘repent and be baptised .  .  . for the forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 2:38).

The Church has always regarded repentance as necessary for beginning the Christian life and, for children, a cleansing, if not from actual sin, then certainly from the sinfulness of the whole race since the original sin.

Because of its anxiety to make everyone feel welcome and its desire not to offend anyone, the new service, almost entirely, does away with sin and the need to repent from its personal and social manifestations and consequences.

Baptism is nothing less than taking part in this story of salvation, no part of which can be sold short.

Rather than the constant ‘dumbing down’ of Christian teaching, whether for baptism, marriage or death, we should be spending time preparing people  for these great rites of passage.

It is best to call a halt to this perhaps well-meant effort before  it further reduces the fullness of the Church’s faith to easily swallowed soundbites.

Conclusion

As Bishop Nazir-Ali says, these periodic rewordings of the baptismal liturgy are not new. Progressively, they have been watered down to the point of ‘easily swallowed soundbites’, rendering the Christian faith meaningless.

If you are seeking the sacrament of Baptism for yourself or your child, I would advise that you seek a discussion with your vicar or curate and also request that s/he use an older liturgy, preferably that from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

What follows are excerpts from the original liturgy for the public baptism of infants in the Church of England:

Then shall the Priest speak unto the Godfathers and Godmothers on this wise [in this way].

Dearly beloved, ye have brought this Child here to be baptized; ye have prayed that our Lord Jesus Christ would vouchsafe to receive him, to release him of his sins, to sanctify him with the Holy Ghost, to give him the kingdom of heaven and everlasting life. Ye have heard also that our Lord Jesus Christ hath promised in his Gospel, to grant all these things that ye have prayed for: which promise he, for his part, will most surely keep and perform. Wherefore, after this promise made by Christ, this Infant must also faithfully, for his part, promise by you that are his sureties, (until he come of age to take it upon himself,) that he will renounce the devil and all his works, and constantly believe God’s holy Word, and obediently keep his commandments.

I demand therefore,

Dost thou, in the name of this Child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them?

Answer. I renounce them all.

Minister.  Dost thou believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?
And in Jesus Christ his only-begotten Son our Lord? And that he was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; that he went down into hell, and also did rise again the third day; that he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; and from thence shall come again at the end of the world, to judge the quick and the dead?
And dost thou believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholick Church; the Communion of Saints; the Remission of sins; the Resurrection of the flesh; and everlasting life after death?

Answer. All this I steadfastly believe.

Minister. Wilt thou be baptized in this faith?

Answer. That is my desire.

Minister. Wilt thou then obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life?

Answer. I will.

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