A D.C. editor writes about piety and society, with one eye on the past and the other on the future, and both eyes on the sovereign purposes of God.
Category Archives: Uncategorized
Regarding disagreement among the bishops and the whole clergy on women’s ordination (WO) in the Anglican Church in North American (ACNA), Joel Martin reads the tea leaves in the interview below and says, ‘Unity and expediency are trumping truth and … Continue reading
Clearly, the world has not stopped turning because of my absence from Twitter. On the other hand, with some discipline – which I may not have – it can be a useful tool. Nevertheless, the time away certainly has been salutary, and I’m glad to have taken it.
The Mystery of the Kingdom of God. First weekend of July, main site in Princeton. New York and Philadelphia are both only an hour away. Think about it. I hope you can go!
The Easter bunnies are not good for food: rabbit starvation and all that. Checkmate, Christcucks. Pesach is where it’s at.
And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.
Rabbi Abbahu said, ‘The blessed Holy One created and destroyed worlds before he created these, saying, “These please me. Those did not please me.” ’ If it be possible that God created and destroyed whole worlds before the heavens and earth that now exist – and he will make a new heavens and a new earth for those who love him now, for the sake of Jesus Christ – is it not possible a fortiori that he has created other mankinds before the Adamite, mankinds from whom Cain needed a mark of protection, mankinds whom God in his justice, not being bound to show mercy but to whom he will show mercy, utterly destroyed in Noah’s Flood?
For beyond (or, should we say, farther in than) the letter of Scripture – which is but the clothing, a true form but not the substance itself – is a world of truth, as Rabbi Simeon, though a Pharisee, rightly explained in the pages of the Zohar:
See how precisely balanced are the upper and the lower worlds. Israel here below is balanced by the angels on high, concerning whom it stands written: ‘who makest thy angels into winds’. For when the angels descend to earth they don earthly garments, else they could neither abide in the world, nor could it bear to have them. But if this is so with the angels, then how much more so it must be with the Torah: the Torah it was that created the angels and created all the worlds and through Torah are all sustained. The world could not endure Torah if she had not garbed herself in garments of this world.
Thus the tales related in the Torah are simply her outer garments, and woe to the man who regards that outer garb as the Torah itself, for such a man will be deprived of portion in the next world. Thus David said: ‘Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law,’ that is to say, the things that are underneath. See now. The most visible part of a man are the clothes that he has on, and they who lack understanding, when they look at the man, are apt not to see more in him than these clothes. In reality, however, it is the body of the man that constitutes the pride of his clothes, and his soul constitutes the pride of his body.
So it is with the Torah. Its narrations which relate to the things of the world constitute the garments which clothe the body of the Torah; and that body is composed of the Torah’s precepts, gufey-torah [bodies, major principles]. People without understanding see only the narrations, the garment; those somewhat more penetrating see also the body. But the truly wise, those who serve the most high King and stood on mount Sinai, pierce all the way through to the soul, to the true Torah which is the root principle of all. These same will in the future be vouchsafed to penetrate to the very soul of the soul of the Torah.
See now how it is like this in the highest world, with garment, body, soul, and super-soul. The outer garments are the heavens and all therein, the body is the Community of Israel and it is the recipient of the soul, that is ‘the Glory of Israel’; and the soul of the soul is the Ancient Holy One. All of these are conjoined one within the other.
Woe to the sinners who look upon the Torah as simply tales pertaining to things of the world, seeing thus only the outer garment. But the righteous whose gaze penetrates to the very Torah, happy are they. Just as wine must be in a jar to keep, so the Torah must be contained in an outer garment. That garment is made up of the tales and stories; but we, we are bound to penetrate beyond.
For to his Son the Everlasting says, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: they shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. These garments are what St Paul in Galatians calls the ‘elements of the world’, under which we were in bondage, as children are to tutors and governors.
What Ecclesiasticus says is true, after the words of the Psalmist, who said, LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. For, following the Psalmist, he instructs the reader in the same principle:
My son, go on with thy business in meekness;
so shalt thou be beloved of him that is approved.
The greater thou art, the more humble thyself,
and thou shalt find favour before the Lord.
Many are in high place, and of renown:
but mysteries are revealed unto the meek.
For the power of the Lord is great,
and he is honoured of the lowly.
Seek not out things that are too hard for thee,
neither search the things that are above thy strength.
But what is commanded thee, think thereupon with reverence,
for it is not needful for thee to see with thine eyes the things that are in secret.
Be not curious in unnecessary matters:
for more things are shewed unto thee than men understand.
For many are deceived by their own vain opinion;
and an evil suspicion hath overthrown their judgment.
But there is nevertheless what we can see, and mysteries are indeed revealed to the meek, the little children, who receive what is given.
So it is when we consider the Nephilim and the worlds and mankinds God may have created and destroyed before the ones that now appear. Thus appear the reprobate in our memory, whom God was not bound to save, for this purpose: to cast in brighter light and to bring near to us in his light, the one who dwells in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see; even the everlasting Torah, the only-begotten Son Jesus Christ.
Natalie Portman is not a 10. Some of these other women are also rather too high. So no, I don’t agree.
In a godly society, people would look better than they do. That they don’t is a sign of sickness.
‘God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?’ The sure … Continue reading
Wilhelm Röpke in A Humane Economy: ‘The countryman, whose work is dictated by the changing seasons and is dependent on the elements, feels himself to be a creature of the Almighty like the corn in the field and the star following … Continue reading
The Rev. David Robertson has written about Selma, racism, and apartheid in the Church.
In Sunday school I remain being ‘indoctrinated’ with the belief that ‘red, and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight’, long before being anti-racist [sic] became the fashion of the day. Although human sin has distorted that image and resulted in the gross sin of racism, Christ came to restore that image. He died that we might be one. As Paul says, in Christ there is no Barbarian, Scythian, slave or free.
As the Apostle says,
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
Old humanity is being made, in Christ and by the Holy Spirit, into one new humanity. It almost goes without saying that the gospel of Christ brings together folk who might otherwise have little to do directly with each other: slaves and masters; Greeks and Jews; and even the least civilized Scythians on the edge of the world. That a White church institution should spend $10 million to move from the edge of the city centre to the suburbs, all to avoid serving Blacks, is clean contrary to the gospel. Likewise, it is no Christian spirit that moves Black Christians to object to White Christians’ presence in ‘their’ church. These are things Mr Robertson saw in Jackson, Mississippi, and having heard from others who come from Jackson I know the hearts of Christians need to be changed by the faith that they profess.
But I am not so sure that ‘churches based on ethnic or racial grounds’ are never biblically justified.
In a way, yes, no church based on ethnicity or race is justified: a church must be based on the faith of Jesus Christ. To pervert that basis and exchange it for similarity in looks and (sub)culture is hæretical. Today’s American society seems to have disintegrated so much that there are – though not so called – churches for the young and churches for the old. Even within a congregation with a broad range of ages, separation by age and life stage is so regimented that Christians in one group may feel discomfort at the mere presence of different people at ‘their’ events. So far has our society been splintered that few people will question it; and so, formed by consumeristic capitalism, they embrace separation in church as much as they have embraced identity politics, even if they sometimes go to events of token unity. In this separation we give the lie to the prayer of our Lord: Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The Church’s unity is basically mystical and not institutional, but it is to be observable enough that the world takes it as evidence that the Father has indeed sent his only-begotten Son. So this unity, though of spiritual and invisible origin, is not wanting in tangible reality. Faith is prior to the Church’s unity, not constitutive of it. Belonging in the one true Church is not a human work, since faith is not a human work, but showing the world that this unity is genuine is a human work. Thus much it is wrong to ground our common work in ethnicity or race, because that is not the foundation of the Church: the Church’s foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord.
On the other hand, though our natural gravitation toward others like ourselves must not be allowed to break up the social bonds of Church and commonwealth, I do not think we can simply say that no segregation is ever warranted. I affirm the importance of being our Christian selves as one, but I also hold that we must be ourselves as many. Even the nation of Israel had twelve tribes, and these twelve distinct but related groups formed a single people. And today, in the one and holy Church, there are many nations and tongues. To insist that each be dissolved in the whole is, no less than the vision of separate but equal islands, to deny that the faith is one: it is to deny that Christians are one until they have given up their cultures and identities for the authority of the centre. Such a call is crueller in principle than the detestable enormities of Rome, for it separates sons from their fathers and daughters from their mothers. It may be the call of liberalism, and the call of the July Monarchy that ruled over France from 1830 to 1848, but it is not the call of the Christian faith. There are other bonds, other loyalties, which are not greater than the bond of peace which is the Holy Ghost, but which no part of God’s word dissolves, because those bonds are made and consecrated by God himself. And God is one, and what he hath himself joined together, let not man put asunder.
So what we need to identify are those natural bonds which God has made. As Aquinas has said, ‘Gratia non tollit naturam sed perficit’: grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it. Parent and child, husband and wife, these are sacred bonds that the Church has no authority to break. Beyond these are other bonds that we must examine before pronouncing upon their maintenance the name of sin. To set oneself against the presence of different folk is to set oneself against the gospel; but to commit oneself to loyal service to one’s own people while loving those of other nations and together acknowledging the same God, as well as the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, is only to attend to nature as God has made it.
There is much sin that separates the Church, but there is also local loyalty that rather builds up the Church than fragments it. Let us discriminate these carefully.
An evangelical Solemn Evensong for Sundays and red-letter days, based on and altered from Herbert George Morse’s Notes on Ceremonial from the Antient English Office Books.
§1. Preparations at the Lord’s Table and in the Vestry.
Around the Lord’s Table the number of candles to be lighted will vary according to the Sunday or festival. The same candles and candlesticks should be used as at Solemn Eucharist, and it is not desirable to light a number of other small candles on the Lord’s Table or retable. If more light is required, the extra candles should be placed on brackets or elsewhere. The candle-bearers, vested in cassock and surplice, will light the candles.
If there is to be a procession after Evensong, the sacristan or cross-bearer will see that the processional cross is in the sanctuary set against the wall near the credence table or other convenient place. The banners also will be in church.
In the vestry, a cope for the officiating priest; surplices for deacon and clerk; sleeveless rochets for candle-bearers and thurifer; two portable candlesticks; and the censer with incense and charcoal (perhaps a perfuming pan) should be prepared before the commencement of the service.
§2. From the commencement of Evensong to the Magnificat.
Having said an introductory prayer in the vestry, the choir has no need to kneel for private prayer in the chancel. As soon as all are in their places the officiant, vested in surplice and hood, should at once commence the opening Sentences.
After pronouncing the Absolution, the priest will face east for all the preces.
It is fitting before the psalms to include the lucernarium, an ancient part of the service. Light is a practical need for a service that takes place when day turns into night, and it is natural that the Lord should be praised for giving us light, yea even being our true Light. The deacon will carry in the lighted candle and bring it before the priest.
Deacon. In the name of Jesus Christ, light with peace.
Answer. Thanks be to God.
Priest. The Lord be with you always.
Answer. And with thy spirit.
Hail! gladdening Light, of his pure glory poured
Who is th’immortal Father, heavenly, blest,
Holiest of Holies: Jesus Christ our Lord!
Now we are come to the Sun’s hour of rest;
The lights of evening round us shine;
We hymn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit divine!
Worthiest art thou at all times to be sung
With undefiled tongue,
Son of our God, giver of life, alone:
Therefore in all the world thy glories, Lord, they own. Amen.
§3. The Magnificat
The psalms being ended, the officiant will go out of quire to the vestry. In the vestry he will put on a silken cope of the colour of the day over his surplice, and a Canterbury cap or college cap.
At the conclusion of the first Lesson, a little procession, consisting of the two candle-bearers carrying portable candlesticks with lighted candles as at Solemn Eucharist, followed by the thurifer, and behind him the priest in cope and Canterbury cap, will come from the vestry by the directest way to the step of the upper quire, where the candle-bearers and thurifer halt and arrange themselves for the priest (with deacon and clerk) to pass between them, with the candle-bearers at the ends of the line. The priest will have taken off his cap as he entered the quire, and on passing between the candle-bearers he gives it to the deacon as being on his right hand, and the thurifer takes it to the sedilia before returning behind the priest, deacon, and clerk.
[Hymns may be found in the hymner edited by George Herbert Palmer, apart from those which promote unædifying practices.]
The candle-bearers ascend immediately after the priest and put down their candles at once in the places where they would be at Solemn Eucharist, i.e. on the lowest step and as far apart as the length of the Lord’s Table, and themselves remain standing by their candles. Meanwhile the priest, the deacon, and the clerk stand in plano with their hands joined, the thurifer standing behind them, all facing east.
[That it is lawful to make a ceremony of burning incense before the Lord’s Table is questionable at best; nor is it reasonable to ape the usage of Rome. Therefore the censing of the Lord’s Table, which did not come into the Church’s general usage until the 11th or 12th century, should rather be omitted than copied from the unreformed churches. See also my post on moving incense in Holy Communion.]
Before beginning the Magnificat, the priest, with deacon and clerk, bows before the Lord’s Table and makes the sign of the Cross. Once the deacon has put incense into the censer, the thurifer then carries the censer through the quire and the nave, which done he will put away the censer in the sacristy and return to his place at the eastern end of the quire or near the sedilia. Meanwhile the candle-bearers stand by their candles, facing east.
Having bowed at the Gloria Patri, the priest then goes to the sedilia accompanied by the candle-bearers without their candles, which are left where they were first set down. He will stand at the sedilia facing north until the Antiphon after the Magnificat is ended, the candle-bearers standing on either side and somewhat in front of him facing each other.
§4. From the Second Lesson to the end of Evensong.
At the conclusion of the Antiphon, the priest will sit down for the second lesson, and with him the deacon and the clerk. The candle-bearers will arrange his cope, and give him his cap, which he will wear while seated. It is desirable to have placed near the sedilia a movable seat for the priest such that his cope can hang down behind without being sat upon. (The candle-bearers will remain standing.)
At the conclusion of the second Lesson the priest will remove his cap and stand up, the deacon and the clerk rising with him. They will stand during the Nunc dimittis, Creed, and V. and R. following. They will all kneel facing north, in the places where they are, at the words ‘Let us pray.’
At the last clause of the Lord’s Prayer the priest, deacon, clerk, and candle-bearers rise and return to the front of the Lord’s Table. Standing in plano they will all bow slightly towards the Lord’s Table, and the candlebearers will go off right and left to fetch their candles. While this move is being made by priest and candle-bearers, the thurifer will come from his place, with a book of the Office, to the left hand of the priest as he stands in the midst of the planum.
The thurifer standing at the left of the priest will hold the open book with his right hand, the upper part of the book resting on his left arm, in such manner that the priest may read from it.
Meanwhile the candle-bearers having taken up their candles and come near to the priest will stand on either side of him with their candles in their hands, facing each other, as at the Gospel in Holy Communion, the thurifer holding the book being between them.
[Contrary to the picture, the servers ought to wear surplices or sleeveless rochets.]
The priest at once begins: ‘O Lord, shew thy mercy upon us,’ &c., and continues to the end of the Collect ‘Lighten our darkness,’ &c.
At the conclusion of the Collects the thurifer passing behind the priest will carry the book to the credence table or sedilia and fetch the priest’s cap. As soon as the priest has received his cap he bows towards the Lord’s Table, the thurifer and candle-bearers bowing with him, and then at once returns to the vestry by the shortest way preceded by the candle-bearers and the thurifer in the same manner as they came in; the choir meanwhile singing the Anthem or hymn to be sung after the third Collect.
While the Anthem is being sung, the churchwardens may collect alms from the people.
The priest having taken off his cope will return to his stall in quire. He will not now wear his cap, though he may carry it in his hand.
The thurifer and candle-bearers, leaving the censer and candlesticks in the vestry, go into quire to the eastern ends of the lower stalls or other convenient places until they are required for the procession.
The Prayers after the third Collect will be said as at the commencement of the service, and ought not to be treated as ‘memorials’ to be said solemnly by the priest in cope. They may be said by the deacon or the clerk.
In blessing at the end of the prayers, the priest, turning to the people, will raise his right hand and say, ‘God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost bless, preserve, and keep you, this night and for evermore.’
The social media have been hit by an article from The Guardian about hipster evangelical churches in the Silicon Valley. About the virtues and vices of hipster culture itself I have nothing to say here, but I did want to take the opportunity to think about buildings, coffee, money, and other such temporalities that people associate with the ministry of the Church.
To humans, places are important. He who discounts entirely the place of place denies a significant part of our being: our bodies. To try to maintain a place, then, is nothing out of order. How a place is used, or disused, or misused, bears greatly upon the people who live and work nearby. If there is a place one often passes by or goes to, its condition inevitably strengthens or weakens one’s morale.
The city of Oakland, for example, once installed a median to slow traffic at the corner of 11th Avenue and 19th Street. According to one resident, Dan Stevenson, this median was the scene of street dumping: ‘mattresses, tables, just junk, just continual junk, a lot of graffiti, a lot of urination and drug use kind of thing’. In fact, says another resident, ‘There was a couple of years when there was just a lot of street muggings and a lot of car break-ins.’ The area improved when Stevenson set up a buddha statue. From the statue has grown a shrine that some Vietnamese immigrants use and maintain, a shrine whose presence has led people to keep their neighbourhood safe and attractive.
A Christian easily imagines that the same could be done with a high cross or a preaching cross. That place matters is a point, not of moral theology, but of natural reason even without the light of holy Scripture. For Silicon Valley folk to apply their entrepreneurial spirit to outward trappings of religion, then, is only natural.
In the big city, with its hustle and bustle, it is convenient that there should be a quiet place for Christians to pray at any time. This is true even when the need is lessened by a large number of wives and husbands who work at home and invite others to their homes for prayer. In the countryside an outdoor preaching cross or a shed may suffice, but in the city a temple (as the French Protestants have traditionally called it) could be of great use.
Each temple would be kept by a vestry, including perhaps a patron, which decided in common what clerics to invite. This vestry, and not any presbyter, would be responsible for the building; but it would take no part in shepherding a flock of people. Instead, it would only administer the building and, hearing the advice of clerics on the practical needs of worship – say, about acoustics – decide how best to meet these needs. The implementation could vary widely. A very rich patron, of course, might decide to build something quite opulent:
The Son of Man, however, hath no place to lay his head. However convenient it is for the Church to have these places in which to pray and worship in quiet, these spaces are in no way part of the Church itself: the visible Church of Christ is ‘a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same’. As Richard Hooker says,
In sum, the whole Church is a multitude of believers, all honoured with that title, even hypocrites for their profession’s sake as well as saints because of their inward sincere persuasion, and infants as being in the first degree of their ghostly motion towards the actual habit of faith; the first sort are faithful in the eye of the world, the second faithful in the sight of God; the last in the ready direct way to become both if all things after be suitable to these their present beginnings.
Therefore, none of the programmes that keep buildings up are what the Church herself is about, nor are they part of the Church except for that they are things done by the people of God. If these be the means of maintaining some buildings that provide places for the Church to use, I do not mind. Such programmes, after all, are simply what a community centre does, which is good and godly work; and if the God-honouring programmes compete against pagan versions, good. For such work, let enterprising Christians have the Church’s blessing and prayers. But we ought to make no mistake: to take these things as piety itself is to exchange the Christian faith with what the late Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, criticized as ‘churchianity’.
It is in this understanding that I hope the Church will proceed. It is a ministry of the body of Christians, led and encouraged by deacons, to attend to bodily needs. This ministry allows presbyters to devote themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and safeguard the sheep by teaching clearly the doctrine of the faith. But the funding and maintenance of buildings is only provisionally a work of the Church at all; far more important is tending to the poor, especially within the body of professing believers, by the collection and giving of alms and food. The latter has direct biblical warrant, the former none. For both, however, the Twelve Apostles made it clear that such work should be led by those who, though full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom, and full of faith and power, were not the people’s primary teachers. Though it has been the wisdom of the Church to require usually that presbyters first prove themselves worthy as deacons, for which reason deacons have also assisted in public worship, the duties of a deacon are also distinct for a good reason, and should jealously be kept distinct.
This is not to say, of course, that what a deacon does is any less holy than what a presbyter does. In Christ, the whole work of the body of the Church is sanctified, in any field. Whatever is done piously is part of the living sacrifice the Church presents in Christ. This is why the virtues St Paul requires of a deacon are similar to those he requires of a presbyter, even though the work is different. Thus Matthew Henry:
The persons chosen to serve tables must be duly qualified. They must be filled with gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost, necessary to rightly managing this trust; men of truth, and hating covetousness. All who are employed in the service of the church, ought to be commended to the Divine grace by the prayers of the church. They blessed them in the name of the Lord. The word and grace of God are greatly magnified, when those are wrought upon by it, who were least likely.
And thus, too, the civil magistrates, and chiefly the reigning monarchs in their realms, have by nature a diaconal role: though they take no part themselves in judging and teaching what is the doctrine of the faith, they work to give the Church the temporal peace to do her work of proclaiming the gospel of Christ. In this role, John Wycliffe asserts even the right and duty sometimes to take away the use of property associated with gospel ministry: ‘If there is a God, temporal lords can legitimately and meritoriously take away earthly goods from a delinquent church. Whether the church is in such a state or not, it is not for me to discuss, but for the temporal lords to examine, and in the case contemplated to take away her temporalities under pain of damnation.’ I would use different terms than Wycliffe has chosen, and especially I would not use church the way he has. My point, however, is that the independence of deacons is such that they are not subject to the wills of the presbyters.
This independence, beginning in the Bible and in some ways more fully expressed in later times, is what allows the presbyters, who teach the word of God and sometimes even censure and testify against some Christians’ scandalous sins, to devote themselves to that teaching of the Apostles. The purity of the gospel is not subject to time and place. Though presbyters must teach in a language the people understand, the gospel they proclaim in word is one and catholic and apostolic, not varying from place to place. The deacons’ attention to local needs of the body is what frees the presbyters to serve as what Alastair calls the Church’s backbone:
While these functions [viz. of empathy and relatability] are not without their importance, I would suggest that a more apt representation of the pastor would be as the backbone and immune system of the church. As the backbone of the church, the pastor is the one who ensures that the body is communicating with its Head. He is the one who is primarily responsible for maintaining the form of the body, so that it is functioning robustly and strongly as a coordinated whole under its Head, rather than collapsing into a weak and amorphous mass. As the immune system of the church, the pastor is the one who maintains the healthy operation of the body, detecting and attacking all that would undermine it. The primary virtues of the pastor are not the virtues of the head, or even the virtues of the heart, but the virtues of the chest, such virtues as fortitude, commitment, whole-heartedness, firmness, strength, loyalty, resolve, valour, nerve, courage, and a love that isn’t sentimental.
So such things as buildings and budgets, though bearing sometimes very directly upon the Church’s ability to proclaim the gospel to the world, were wisely taken away from the cares of the Twelve, and today would wisely be kept away from the cares of the presbyters. Does the presbyter ask for tithes? Does he censure anyone for not paying? God forbid. It is the service of deacons, strong in the Spirit, that shows everyone how to give both body and substance for the sake of the gospel. Perhaps, like Stephen, they do great wonders and miracles among the people and so demonstrate to the Church how the Lord cares for the body as well as the soul. Perhaps, too, by martyrdom, they demonstrate how the Lord cares for the body with the soul, the body serving the soul’s fellowship with God. So the works of physical possessions are not unspiritual, but rather they call for a different kind of leadership, both enabling and bringing to the body the comfort and demands of the gospel. The deacons might even look like hipsters.
That’s what I like to see in the Offertory: clerics bowing lowly before the Lord. Expressions may vary across times and places, but doing lowly reverence (שָׁחָה, or προσεκύνησις) is a fitting thing taught by Scripture.
It may be thought that, since pectoral crosses are quite a recent innovation in the dress of bishops, I would oppose their use. This is generally true. I have little time for unedifying trinkets, and I dislike Anglican bishops’ wearing purple … Continue reading
The slaughter of Christians in Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria continues apace. One day, God willing, I will join them in the new heavens and the new earth. For the Western churches today, actual martyrdom is not often on our minds, except when, hoping to share in some of the glory of martyrs, we like to exaggerate our own suffering as Christians. What we need is a robust cult of the martyrs that is rooted in the person, the sacrifice, and the glorification of Christ himself: a cult that teaches us to imitate the holy examples of the great cloud of witnesses the Lord has given us, and by these examples to live as those who are called blessed in the Sermon on the Mount. Such respectful commemoration of the martyrs and praise of God would be a constant reminder of the claims the gospel makes upon our lives.
The quality of holy martyrs’ faith, I think, is something that all Christians need to learn. To be mature, the Church needs to look at her baptism by water and be prepared for martyrdom. For this is the calling that baptism represents, to be united to Christ in his death and resurrection. This is what St Peter says to the martyr Church, knowing that he must shortly put off the tabernacle of his body:
Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
When faith is tested, there a Christian must see that he has no higher calling than the works of Christ and his Holy Spirit, that he may not prefer to them the sweetness of life itself. Faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, charity, this is the fruit of the Spirit that is found in him who remembers that he has been purged from his old sins, cleansed in the waters of baptism. He is a dead man, and having died with Christ he will soon enter his everlasting kingdom. As he gives diligence to make his calling and election sure, he will receive with joy the destiny for which God has elected him. Such a man is ready to suffer death and be buried, and to rise again according to the Scriptures for the life of the world to come.
This is the truth our worship should reflect. As one hymn says for the praise and commemoration of one martyr outwith Eastertide,
O God, of those that fought thy fight,
Portion, and prize, and crown of light,
Break every bond of sin and shame
As now we praise thy Martyr’s name.
He recked not of the world’s allure,
But sin and pomp of sin forswore:
Knew all their gall, and passed them by,
And reached the throne prepared on high.
Bravely the course of pain he ran,
And bare his torments as a man:
For love of thee his blood outpoured,
And thus obtained the great reward.
With humble voice and suppliant word
We pray thee therefore, holy Lord,
While we thy Martyr’s feast-day keep,
Forgive thy loved and erring sheep.
Glory and praise for aye be done
To God the Father, and the Son,
And Holy Ghost, who reign on high,
One God to all eternity.
And another for the praise and commemoration of many martyrs within Eastertide,
O glorious King of Martyr hosts,
Thou crown that each Confessor boasts,
Who leadest to celestial day
Those who have cast earth’s joys away:
Thine ear in mercy, Saviour, lend,
While unto thee our prayers ascend;
And as we count their triumphs won,
Forgive the sins that we have done.
Martyrs in thee their triumphs gain,
From thee Confessors grace obtain;
O’ercome in us the lust of sin,
That we thy pardoning love may win.
To thee who, dead, again dost live,
All glory, Lord, thy people give;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete.
Fitting for the praise of holy martyrdom, a rigorous ritual, the hymns are not sentimental but resolute. They have no time for sentimentality. They praise the noble acts that the martyrs have done by the power of God. Their austerity is perfectly Roman and perfectly cruciform.
This is sterner stuff than what many Christians see today, but it is the stuff of the Bible. This is the spirituality that rejoices in the work of Jesus Christ and glories in the death to which he has called us in hope of the life to which he has called us. For he has gone before us, the firstborn from among the dead, the Son of Man, that as sons of God in him the saints might all be raised at the Last Day. It is not familiar, but God is not merely familiar. It is strange, as God is strange. But in the strange life of dying saints we look to the strange and glorious life of resurrected saints. And most of all we look upon the one who has given his body and blood that we might give ours up and be raised with his. ’Tis strange, foreign even, but it is love.
One does not simply add prettiness to the Lord’s service. The Lord is greater than to be amused by dainty little fancies.
Prettiness is an affectation as dull as it is frivolous.
The beauty of the Lord is deadly to sin.
It is an austere beauty that the soul feels when it touches a love that is stronger than death.
Meeting with the Lord, a mortal man can have no worthy pretence.
To ‘connect with’ the Lord in prettiness is to have fellowship with an idol.
When the Lord condescended to the condition of men, he did not abhor the virgin’s womb, and all Jerusalem was troubled.